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Politics and Facebook: How local candidates are using social media ads to advance campaigns

State Journal Register

Wednesday, September 21, 2022  |  Article  |  Patrick Keck

It has been 70 years since future President Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced his "Eisenhower Answers America" campaign, a series of 30-second clips which historians commonly refer to as television's foray into political advertising.

Since 1952, television has done away with the rabbit ears and its screens have become flatter but the use of the medium continues in modern-day politics. Still, with many cutting the cord on cable, some state and congressional candidates are targeting voters through online advertising with Election Day less than 50 days away.

Approaching 3 billion users globally, candidates in central Illinois are turning toward Facebook to get the word out.

48th Illinois Senate District

Two Springfield-based candidates share not just a difference in political ideology, but also in using Facebook for campaign advertising.

According to the Meta Ad Library, state Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, has six active ads sponsored by Friends of Doris Turner where estimates show the campaign invested approximately $14,200. The ads, which went live on Aug. 25, and as of Monday have amassed around 860,000 impressions, meaning the number of times the ad appears on someone's screen.

On a per-advertisement basis, the ad library also shows the demographics of who is seeing the ads and where it was shown. One such advertisement, with spending estimated between $3,500 and $4,000, saw 24% of the viewers age 25 to 34 and 22% age 65 or older.

Turner's opponent and current state Rep. Sandy Hamilton, R-Springfield, has a Facebook presence under her official "Sandy 4 Senate" page. The page recently posted a campaign video, but no money was invested into making it a sponsored post.

If the Hamilton campaign decides to invest financial resources into its social media strategy, it could pull from recent contributions from the Senate Republican Victory Fund. According to campaign finance records, SandyForSenate picked up two sums of $133,130 from SRVF earlier this month.

Concluding last quarter with $56,727 in available funds, the campaign has so far received $307,444 from SRVF since June 30. Hamilton and Madison County Board member Erica Harriss, running in the 56th Senate District, have received the most contributions from the fund.

Despite Hamilton's lead among Republican Senate hopefuls, contributions from the Illinois Senate Democrat Fund to the Friends of Doris Turner candidate committee have outpaced the challenger in the post-primary period.

This month alone, Turner has picked up $495,976 from ISDF and comes after the campaign secured $325,750 in a single contribution last month.

More:3 incumbent Illinois state legislators advance to November election

13th Congressional District

Republican candidate Regan Deering and Democratic candidate Nikki Budzinksi have used Facebook ads in their respective campaigns for Illinois' 13th Congressional District.

The Regan4Congress campaign had five ads last month, sharing details on upcoming events and photos from previous meetings. In total, the campaign is estimated to have spent no more than $800 which secured approximately 153,000 impressions.

Alternatively, Budzinski's campaign has invested heavily in its Facebook presence – estimates between $30,000 and $37,000 on three ads this month. This strategy has netted the Democrat more impressions than voters in the newly formed congressional district.

The 13th stretches from the Metro East region across a narrow strip through Springfield and Decatur, to Champaign and is home to approximately 705,000 people. The sponsored posts from Nikki Budzinski for Congress have garnered up to 2.3 million impressions.

Budzinski came out of the June primary with more money on hand than Deering, despite outspending the Republican by more than 2 1/2 times, according to data from the Federal Election Committee. Among her contributions this year, Gov. JB Pritzker and first lady MK Pritzker have sent Budzinski $11,600 this year.