Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
As the 2020 election inches closer, Republicans continue to enjoy the digital edge they seized in 2016.
Why it matters: Online ad spending offers President Trump an efficient way to target sympathetic voters with fundraising pitches and barrage them with inflammatory messages on issues ranging from immigration to impeachment.
- It's especially cost-effective on Facebook, because there, the more an ad proves "engaging" — i.e., hot, attention-grabbing, clicky — the cheaper it is.
- It's a system made for Trump's style.
The big picture: This conflict, as we've been reporting, is unfolding on platforms that have given politicians a nearly unlimited free pass to tell lies.
Driving the news: The New York Times reported on Sunday that Trump is using ads on digital platforms more aggressively and creatively than Democrats.
- After Facebook, Twitter and Google rejected the Biden campaign's complaint about inaccurate Trump advertising, Biden moved forward with plans to shift spending toward television ads, the Times said.
By the numbers: Trump's campaign was massively outspending Democrats online earlier this year, but many Democrats have recently opened the floodgates, too.
- In the last 90 days, Facebook reports say, Trump's campaign has spent approximately $5.3 million on Facebook ads. That's less than the $5.7 million spent by one Democratic candidate, Tom Steyer.
- Biden may have retreated from the digital field, at least for now, but his rivals have not.
Between the lines: What differentiates the parties is less dollar totals than tactics.
- Trump's messages are effective at grabbing attention, and his team — led by a campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who was the Trump digital lead in 2016 — relentlessly experiments and tests messages.
- As is the norm with incumbents, Trump can focus his message on Democratic rivals (and fighting impeachment) while his challengers are still competing to determine who will be the party's nominee.
- Some Democrats have brought digital ad buying and strategy in-house to cut costs. That could make it harder for them to tap the kind of up-to-date thinking and savvy agencies can offer.
- Both sides have invested in texting infrastructure. But so far, Republicans have the edge in using text messages for fundraising and messaging.
Yes, but: Democrats have the advantage in small-dollar online donations.
- ActBlue, a payment processing system used by most of the major Democratic presidential candidates, has pioneered small-dollar donations and donation tracking since 2016.
- WinRed, the Republicans' rival system, only launched in July.
Our thought bubble: It's hard to envision any candidate winning the 2020 race without a top-notch strategy for digital and social media.
What's next: CEO Mark Zuckerberg will talk about Facebook's role in the 2016 and 2020 elections on an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt this evening.