As election nears, campaigns spend millions on TV ads, and millions more on Facebook

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Politics is the business of governing, and winning in politics is big, big business.

With just about one month to go before Election Day, fresh estimates are forecasting a campaign cycle worth $6.7 billion, including hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into advertising on myriad media platforms.

The dominant expense remains television, with recent spending for the presidential race topping $700 million in just 14 states at play, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. The sum includes cash spent by the official Donald Trump and Joe Biden campaigns, plus independent action groups supporting their candidate of choice.


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On social media however, the NYU Ad Observatory reports the two campaigns are currently spending a combined $96 million on Facebook, which is already outpacing the $81 million Hillary Clinton and Trump spent in 2016.

The presidential candidates spent a combined $6 million this year directly targeting North Carolina voters based on NYU's analysis.

"They want to deliver a message that is hopefully going to resonate with that person on the basis of some characteristics they know about the people they are trying to reach," Daniel Kreiss, a professor of media and communications at UNC Chapel Hill, said. "Using social media to do that has quickly become one of the most effective ways in getting your message out."

Kreiss said the increasing shift to social media over the past few years is due to campaigns being able to deliver a more targeted message and track how ads perform. Additionally, many more voters are on social media and pay attention to the messages on their feeds.

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The Facebook Ad Observatory found in North Carolina the political ads themed around Trump have prevailed as a dominant theme until this month. In mid-September, the data shows ads centered on elections and voting have increased on Facebook. Kreiss said seeing a dominant Trump theme is not unusual in elections where the current president is seeking a second term.
"I think what Biden is trying to do is make this a very clear referendum on the president," he said. "What the president is trying to do is double down on his own record so you see a lot of messaging around immigration, around the economy, around this president's strength as he's handled multiple crisis since he's been in office."

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Illuminating, another site tracking Presidential candidates' Facebook and Instagram ads, found the messaging between Trump and Biden varied greatly.

Trump has spent the most money on ads targeting safety and governance while Biden's spending focuses on social/cultural themes and foreign policy. Economic ads were a common message for both candidates.

"In general, they are going to double down on things their base is going to be most responsive to. Beyond that, it's about finding things that people are most open to persuasion by, and this is a much smaller slice of the electorate, and I think it's why you've seen the Trump campaign make a lot of appeals to white suburban voters, particularly around the context of Black Lives Matter," Kreiss said.

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Data showed Trump allocating the most money on safety ads over the summer but now shifting to a focus on governance.

On the other hand, COVID-19 related advertising was Biden's top message over the summer but now they've taken a backseat to ads centered on the economy.

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