Amid the most expensive election cycle in U.S. history, today we are pleased to announce the launch of our new “What’s My Vote Worth” Online Calculator, designed to show voters just how much money is spent advertising to them during the 2020 election cycle. To use the calculator, any individual can anonymously enter information about themselves – their state, party affiliation, voter history, age, education, racial identity, and online activity level – and within seconds see a projected dollar-estimate of how much was spent on advertising to win their vote, highlighting how personal information is used to discriminate between different groups of people during the election process.The launch of the new tool coincides with the final days of the 2020 election season, which saw projected ad spend coming close to $7 Billionnationally. Notably, digital advertising has been the fastest growing of all the marketing channels, seeing total ad spend triple in the last 2 years to over 20% of total election ad dollars.
While most voters sense that political advertising is out of control, what hasn’t been clear is how dramatic the differences are in how these ad dollars are allocated across different groups. While the average American voter is worth $46 to advertisers, the most prized voters are targeted with nearly $300 worth of ads while others received a mere $10 in attention.Why the growing disparity in ad spend between different groups of voters? Let’s take a closer look…
Unregulated Ad Technology, Fueled by an Abundance of Personal Data
Late-19th century merchant and advertising pioneer John Wanamaker famously said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” That may have been true for the campaigns Wanamaker ran over a century ago, but ol’ J.W. didn’t have the tools or the data commonly used in 2020 to microtarget, adjust, and report on campaigns with the laser-like precision.Today, ad platforms like Facebook and Google allow advertisers to create and run campaigns to increasingly specific, narrow audiences, often leveraging 3rd party data sets to hone in on very specific groups. For political campaigns, the data used for this advertising comes primarily from two sources:
State Provided Voter Roll Data: These are publicly available, often poorly-secured, voter records provided to political campaigns from individual states. These records include personal contact information – home address, phone, voting history, and sometimes the last 4 digits of a social security number. While these sources are intended only for approved political entities, recent searches have found hundreds of millions of personal voter records for sale on hacker sites and the dark web.
Data Brokers and Political Consultants: These are for-profit entities that sell private citizen information to anyone without oversight, for as little as $.99 per record. According to our research, these brokers have data on over 97% of all U.S. adults, and these companies enrich voter records with social media data and browsing habits to create categories like “Individuals who are likely to have a large presence/following on social media, often sharing political content.” (Source: Acxiom Political Playbook)
Key Takeaways From the “What’s My Vote Worth” Tool
Taken together, all this means that political advertisers know a LOT about the groups they’re reaching, and poorly-regulated Big Tech advertising platforms enable increasingly targeted advertising with little oversight. As you can see for yourself with the “What’s My Vote Worth” calculator, there are large disparities both in ad spend and messages shown to different voters, depending on who you are and where you live. And, in a nation that is arguably more divided than any other time in recent history, it should be deeply concerning to all of us that our personal information is used this way to further polarize us for the benefit of advertisers and politicians.
Curious how much your vote is worth to political advertisers? The tool is available to the public for free at joindeleteme.com/val-you/political.
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