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Liberals outspending all major parties combined on Facebook: analysis

Adebisi Funmilayo

Oct. 10, 2019

The Liberal Party is spending more and running more ads on Facebook than the other major parties combined, according to an analysis of Facebook advertising data provided to The Globe and Mail.
The Liberal, Conservative, National Democratic Party, Green, Bloc Québécois and People’s parties combined have spent at least $1.16-million on Facebook ads, netting a minimum of 122.9 million ad views or impressions. The Liberal Party accounts for at least $658,600, or 56.7 per cent of that total.
The Liberals also stand out for the sheer volume of the ads they’ve bought on the platform. Of the 17,606 ads run by the six parties, 12,073 of those – more than two-thirds – belong to the Liberal Party.
The analysis looks at all the ads logged by Facebook’s Ad Library from the beginning of the official pre-election period on June 30 to Oct. 4. The election will be held on Oct. 21.
The 52,444 ads were shared with The Globe by academics from the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University, who research political advertising on Facebook.
Laura Edelson, lead researcher for the Online Political Transparency Project , said the analysis highlights the difference in the Liberal and Conservative Party’s online advertising strategies.
According to Ms. Edelson, the Conservative Party is using a more traditional, broadcast-style approach to its Facebook ads, relying heavily on ads purchased by the party’s main Facebook page. “By contrast, the strong majority of the Liberal Party’s [spending] comes from the pages of candidates themselves,” she said by e-mail.
Liberal candidates’ pages account for 60 per cent of the party’s 63.3 million ad impressions they’ve received so far. In contrast, Conservative candidates represent only 23 per cent of both their 41.1 million impressions and $348,900 in spending.
Facebook provides a range of possible impressions and spending for each ad. For that reason, The Globe’s analysis uses only the minimum figures for views and spending.
The data also reveal how those impressions break down by province, gender, and age.
While it has focused on candidate-level advertising, the Liberal Party is also being careful about how it spends its money. According to Ms. Edelson, the Liberals’ spending in each province is in line with that province’s voting population. “The vast majority of Liberal candidates have Facebook pages, and most are running ads there,” she said. “They really appear to be trying to reach voters in every riding.”
Ms. Edelson added that the Liberals’ even spending across provinces is not necessarily intentional and could instead be a consequence of their candidate-first advertising strategy.
Major parties also advertised to genders at different rates. The Green and Liberal parties are the only two that advertised to more women than men, with 55.9 per cent and 53.2 per cent, respectively, of women seeing their ads. Ads for the NDP were seen by a roughly equal percentage of women and men, while Conservative ads were seen by men 55.4 per cent of the time. (Impressions from people with an “unknown” gender on Facebook have been excluded from this analysis.)
Conversely, the People’s Party stands out for advertising to men more than 75 per cent of the time.
For the most part, parties’ ad impressions were divided in similar ways across age groups. However, almost a third of the NDP’s ads were seen by people between the ages of 25 and 34, and the Conservative Party advertised to the fewest young voters, with only 10.7 per cent of their impressions going to people between the ages of 18 and 24.
While it’s a much lower percentage than the Liberals’, the figure hews closely to overall voting demographics. According to Elections Canada, as of June people between the ages of 18 and 24 accounted for 10.4 per cent of the eligible voting population.
Ms. Edelson said that the Canadian data is quite different from what they’ve collected in the United States. “So far, we see fewer attempts on the part of advertisers to avoid the transparency systems or to obscure who they are,” she said.
“I’m not saying everyone is perfect, but over all, we’re seeing a relatively clean election. The Canadian election period is so much shorter and the caps on spending are low enough that I think there just isn’t as much opportunity for disinformation.”
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