Wednesday 20 March 2019

Hillary Clinton lost the US election 'because of wasted millions on Facebook ads'

Hillary Clinton. Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Hillary Clinton. Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Nick Allen

Hillary Clinton’s failure to connect with US voters through a massive investment in social media could lead to a resurgence in more traditional political advertising methods such as newspapers and radio.

Mrs Clinton employed more than 100 people in her digital team and spent tens of millions of dollars trying to win over millennials with a series of hi-tech messages on Facebook.

Experts said she might have been better off buying newspaper or local television adverts in the handful of key states she unexpectedly lost.

Older voters receiving their coverage of the election through local newspapers were more likely to vote there.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“Hillary Clinton should get all her money back. It didn’t work,” said John Geer, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, Nashville. “Anyone who relies on 18 to 24 year olds as a group, unfortunately, what we would call those candidates are losers. Because they never turn out. We are in a situation where we should re-evaluate the money they are pouring into these adverts, it seems crazy.”

He said that candidates should “not underestimate the power of the traditional platforms” such as newspapers and radio.

During the campaign Bill Clinton, the former president, advocated unsuccessfully for targeting blue collar workers in the rust belt states by more traditional means. However, Mrs Clinton’s digital team, sitting in their Brooklyn headquarters under a “Swipe Right for Hillary” banner, were told to think “out of the box” and appeal to young voters on social media, using outlets including Snapchat and Pinterest.

A total of 30 young staff members were assigned to film her on the campaign trail and post the slickly edited videos on Facebook.

Ideas her campaign and supporting groups came up with included a four-part comic book series on Facebook called ‘Trump’s America’.

The costly adverts showed a caricature of Donald Trump in a grimy New York setting, saying “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone,” and viewers were invited to move around the screen for different views. The project was aimed at voters in their 20s in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. Mrs Clinton ended up losing all of those states apart from New Hampshire.

Son-in-law Jared Kushner. Photo: Getty Images
Son-in-law Jared Kushner. Photo: Getty Images

The failure of her digital and social media operation has led to an inquest over how Democrats should try to reach voters next time.

“Her big problem was not reaching working class voters in about three key states,” said Justin Holmes, assistant professor of political science at the University of Iowa. “With social media you can target specific groups, but they were focused on young women and Latinos. If anything, if the Clinton campaign had bought a few more ads in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin newspapers she might have won.”

He said click-through rates on social media adverts had been “terrible”. Buying a Facebook advert was “cheap” but like “preaching to the choir”.

“It’s a lot of people who have already made up their minds. There is some value in mobilising people who already support you, but those other people are harder to reach,” he said.

He added that with television advertising becoming increasingly “fragmented” among all the different channels, one more successful route may be sponsored content on news websites.

Total US election spending, including the presidential, state, and local races, showed a sharp rise in digital advertising. It made up 14.4pc of the total spent in 2016 compared with 1.7pc in 2012. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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