US midterms: political ad spend soars… but are parties ditching Facebook?

Political ad spending is expected to break records this cycle, but Meta’s Facebook isn’t the key battleground it once was, according to reports.

With polls opening tomorrow, an estimated $9.7bn being spent on political ads ahead of this year’s crucial US midterm elections, according to AdImpact.

Going on those figures, the current midterm cycle is outpacing the 2020 presidential election year by nearly $700m.

While TV, especially in local markets, still accounted for the largest segment of ad buys during the 2020 election, more political organisations and candidates are spending in the digital space, where messages are easier to create, target and distribute.

But where once politicians took advantage of Meta’s ability to deliver hyper-targeted ads to potential voters, they are now turning to other digital platforms.

Has Apple caused Facebook to lose its golden touch?

In the current election cycle, the Democratic Governors Association has dropped its advertising budget on Meta-owned Facebook to around 50%, down from 75% in the 2020 Presidential election.

Speaking to CNBC, Laura Carlson, digital director of the Democratic Governors Association, said: “I think the throughline that you’ll see overall is Facebook has become a much less effective platform over the past two years.”

Carlson said the changes that Apple made to iOS last year, which restricted the targeting capabilities for advertisers, have made Facebook a less valuable tool for distributing political messages to the desired audience.

Switch to streaming platforms

Facebook’s loss appears to be the video streaming industry’s gain. AdImpact estimates that 30% of the political advertising spend, roughly $2.9bn, is now going into digital advertising or to ads placed through connected TVs (CTV).

As digital becomes a more potent political tool, the tech giants have responded in different ways. Rival Google has both set up public databases listing their political ads, introducing a new level of transparency.

Meanwhile, other platforms such as TikTok have prohibited political advertising, though candidates are increasingly using the sites directly via organic posts.