From FWIW Virginia:
Welcome to FWIW Virginia, where we analyze digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in the 2021 Virginia statewide and legislative elections. Each week, we look at how campaigns are investing in digital engagement and the online tactics they use to reach voters across the Commonwealth. Was this email forwarded to you? Click here to subscribe.
Election Day in Virginia is still 47 days away, but voters across the commonwealth can start casting their ballots tomorrow as the absentee and early voting period opens. 2021 is the first non-presidential election with no-excuse early and absentee voting in Virginia, and campaigns and outside groups are rushing to make sure their voters cast their ballots early.
Who’s investing in educating voters online about mail-in voting? And how are campaigns messaging around new voting options? We take a look in this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia. But first…
It’s debate night in Virginia
The first of two scheduled debates in the Governor’s race will kick off tonight from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, VA. Moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page, this should be one to watch. You can find details on how to do so here.
2021 by the numbers
FWIW, here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Facebook users in Virginia last week.
And here are the top 10 spenders specifically targeting Virginians on Google’s platforms.
On YouTube, the McAuliffe campaign launched a new video last week highlighting the former Governor’s plan for improving Virginians’ healthcare:
We’re also tracking cumulative digital ad spending across the state, including spending from candidates for statewide offices, competitive or potentially competitive Delegate races (any race under a 15 point margin in 2019), and partisan outside groups with spending specifically targeted at Virginia elections.
…and lastly, while spending on Snapchat advertising has been very minimal this cycle – Democratic Delegate candidate Irene Shin is taking advantage of the youth-focused platform to spread her campaign’s message far and wide. As she did in the primary, she’s running biographical ads to introduce herself to voters and highlight her opponent’s opposition to COVID safety measures.
As far as we know, Shin is the only delegate candidate in the state this cycle running ads on Snapchat.
Voting kicks off in Virginia
Mail-in Absentee and Early Voting present unique opportunities for campaigns – instead of relying on Election Day turnout, where voters have to take time out of their Tuesday to stand in line and cast a ballot, campaigns can focus on locking in their supporters’ votes early.
Both sides are running on-the-ground turnout operations – the Democratic Coordinated Campaign has an $11 million budget (which is huge by any standards) and has knocked 200,000 doors over the summer. Meanwhile, the RNC has dispatched 100 field staffers to the state, and the Republican Coordinated Campaign claims to have knocked 250,000 doors so far. Neither side released how it calculates those totals (campaigns often report trying to reach multiple people at the same house as multiple knocks), so it’s not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, but both sides are out to persuade and turnout voters.
However, digital outreach focused on mail-in voting has been mostly lopsided so far, with Democratic campaigns and outside groups being the first to focus on pushing their voters to vote by mail.
Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe’s campaign began running mail-in voting ads earlier this week, urging supporters to request their mail-in ballots before ballots are officially mailed out later this week. His campaign is using a mix of Trump-centric and deadline tactics to push supporters towards requesting their ballots, although the deadline to request an absentee ballot isn’t until October 22.
ProgressVA, a progressive non-profit, has also been running ads for mail-in voting since early September – their ads use a mix of COVID-focused safety appeals, informational content about the voting process, and even memes to make voters feel comfortable voting by mail. In a state where no-excuse absentee voting is fairly new, educating voters on these new voting processes is critical, and non-profits focused on voting education are a helpful supplement to more straightforward deadline and Trump-focused tactics that the McAuliffe campaign is using.
The Voter Participation Center is another non-profit organization helping push progressive-leaning voters to vote by mail through informative content. The group is a 501(c)(3) whose goal is to improve turnout among the “New American Majority” of young, women, and POC voters. The creative on their ads is sleek and emphasizes the ease and security of voting by mail, along with explaining the ballot request and return process.
As Early and Absentee Voting kicks off in Virginia, we expect more campaigns and outside groups to hone in turning out their supporters early. Here at FWIW Virginia, we’ll continue to track how campaigns + outside groups are investing in digital ads to bank votes before Election Day.
Thanks for reading this week’s FWIW Virginia! We’re so excited to be back following these critical elections in the Commonwealth. If you enjoy reading this type of content each week, we hope you’ll support our work by clicking share and tweeting out this newsletter below! As always, email us with ideas of what you’d like us to dive into next.
You can also sign up to receive our national newsletter, FWIW, here.