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Expand chart
Adapted from Advertising Analytics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Why it matters: For a while, Trump was dominating online advertising spend on Google and Facebook, giving his campaign an unprecedented early lead in drumming up grassroots support ahead of 2020. Now, Democrats — led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — are catching up.

By the numbers: Just 2 months ago in March, Trump's campaign was outspending all Democrats combined on those platforms 2:1. Now, according to data from Advertising Analytics and Bully Pulpit Interactive:

  • Democrats have spent nearly twice as much as the Trump campaign since January.
  • In total, Democrats have spent roughly $12.7 million on digital ads on Google and Facebook since the beginning of the year.
  • The Trump campaign has spent $7.9 million.

Biden's campaign said that 70% of the $6.3 million that he raised in his campaign's first 24 hours, a record among the 2020 Dems, was from online.The strongest response came from videos featuring Biden, the campaign said.

How it works: At this stage in the campaign, candidates are using advertising mostly to build lists, collect data and solicit small-dollar fundraising.

  • Data collected from ad performance and dollars raised from digital ad campaigns will go toward buying and optimizing more expensive television ads.
  • At this point, most presidential contenders aren't thinking too much about television advertising.
  • According to FCC filings, only former Maryland Rep. John Delaney has even begun reserving local broadcast television spots in key swing states, like New Hampshire and Iowa.

The big picture: The ability for campaigns to buy cheap digital ads has upended the way political campaigns are run. And while this phenomenon isn't new, our ability to track it is.

  • Traditionally, direct mail has been used to solicit fundraising this early on in the campaign, which can be more expensive and is harder to get feedback from in real time.
  • Now, digital ads allow campaigns to build up their lists early for fundraising down the road, and it allows them to test which messages resonate with different potential voters before targeting them with more expensive outreach, like television ads.

Be smart: This level of insight into what campaigns spend on Google and Facebook, which makes up the majority of online digital ad spending, has been made possible by the implementation of ad archives from both companies last year. Previously, data about political ad spend on these platforms was relatively unknown.

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Why it matters: President Trump's harsh rhetoric towards the press has empowered leaders abroad and locally in the U.S. to continue to attack press that they don't like.

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