Racial Justice in Presidential & Senatorial Candidate Ads

By Sam Feuer ’23, Angela Loyola ’21, and Natchanok Wandee ’23

According to the New York Times, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement may be the largest movement in U.S. history. With fifteen to twenty-six million people protesting across the country after the murder of George Floyd, the quantity of people and their geographic spread has made it clear that racial justice is a very present issue for many Americans. 

Protests and demonstrations are an essential part of the democratic process and can have a great impact on candidates’ platforms. Additionally, the ways that candidates frame the movement, either positively or negatively, can shape its future. Due to the prevalence of the movement, we were interested in researching how the movement has influenced presidential and senatorial campaigns. Conversely, we are also interested in how candidates talk about BLM, as they may provide some clues about the future of the movement. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, over $60 million has been spent on pro-Biden or pro-Trump Facebook ads alone between April 9th to August 8th. How prominent is the Black Lives Matter movement in these ads? How big of an influence has the movement had on these campaigns?

To evaluate this, we analyzed the frequency, content and spend percentages of the ads related to Black Lives Matter. Data used in this analysis came directly from the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising through Facebook’s Ad Library API tool. 

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Digital Spending on Facebook by Geography

By Roshaan Siddiqui (’22) and Pavel Oleinikov

In its tracking of campaign spending on Facebook, Wesleyan Media Project focuses on identifying the sources of money behind the ads. Facebook requires that advertisers post the “Paid for By” disclaimer, listing the organization that paid for the ad. Often, the same organization will engage dozens of Facebook pages to post the ads. Together with the Center for Responsible Politics, WMP matches the Facebook records against external data to identify the sponsors behind political ads. The numbers you are seeing in the map are an aggregation of the amounts posted by Facebook in the spending reports on the Facebook Ad Library webpage. We report the spending by week, with Sunday being the first day of a week.

Please click here (or click the image below) to use this interactive tool.

Long-term monitoring helps identify gaps in Facebook reporting

By Pavel Oleinikov

In Facebook’s Ad Library, Facebook reports spending on political advertisements by day, week, 30-day, and 90-day summaries, and total spending to date by Facebook Page and Disclaimer (for example, Page: Donald J. Trump, Disclaimer: TRUMP MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN COMMITTEE).

Through long-term monitoring of the Facebook reports, we became aware that not every day’s numbers can be trusted the same. An analyst or a reporter who decides to use a daily download from Facebook may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

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Delta Lab students present their research

Three Delta Lab students are presenting their research using Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) data during virtual sessions this summer. Two Delta Lab students, Brianna Mebane (’22) and Roshaan Siddiqui (‘22), presented their ongoing work and preliminary findings at Wesleyan University’s virtual Summer 2020 Research Poster Session on July 30, and Adina Gitomer (’20) will be presenting her work with Saray Shai at the Politics and Computational Social Science (PaCSS) and Political Networks (PolNet) virtual conference on August 13, 2020. Read a little more about their work below.

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Examining Women’s Issues in Political Advertising and Candidate Gender

By Lance Lepelstat

Previous studies of gender in political advertising indicate strong similarities between the self-presentations of male and female candidates in ads (Sapiro, Walsh, Strach & Hennings, 2011). Because past studies have focused only on federal government races, we aim to update these findings with data on advertising in down ballot races in addition to federal races. We also use data from 2012 and 2016 in order to examine a potential change over time with respect to gender differences.

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Coronavirus coverage minimal in presidential candidate digital advertising

Tracking Facebook ad references to the pandemic from candidates and their affiliated pages

By Conner Sexton and Spencer Dean


Presidential campaigns, including leadership PACs and single-candidate super PACs, have spent upwards of $185 million on Facebook advertisements since the beginning of 2019, as reported by the Wesleyan Media Project. By comparison, $751 million has been spent on TV ads from all sponsors in the presidential race. In recent weeks, as a narrowing of the field coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of TV advertisements seems to have decreased significantly.

Read moreCoronavirus coverage minimal in presidential candidate digital advertising