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Focused Facebook ads drove fence-sitters to vote for Trump in 2016 US polls

Researchers say Trump's team spent $44 mn on Facebook, with 175,000 different adverts during the campaign, compared to $28 mn by Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton

Press Trust of India  |  London 

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In Trump's case, the impact of the campaign was strongest among voters who used Facebook regularly, those who used this social media as their main source of news and among voters without university or college-level education. (Photo:PTI)

Micro-targeted advertising on was very effective in persuading undecided voters to support during the 2016 US presidential elections, a study has found.

According to the researchers from the Charles III University of Madrid in Spain, Trump's team spent $44 million on Facebook, with 175,000 different adverts during the 2016 election campaign, compared to a spend of $28 million by Democrat candidate

In order to carry out these campaigns, the messages are sent out to users based on various factors, such as their gender, location or political allegiance.

This increased the probability that a non-aligned voter would decide to vote for candidate Trump by at least five percentage points, according to the study.

On the other hand, the results show that Clinton did not manage to increase support among her potential natural voters nor boost their participation in the elections.

"Unfortunately, we do not have the necessary data to be able to understand why it worked for Trump and not for Clinton," researchers said.

In Trump's case, the impact of the campaign was strongest among voters who used regularly, those who used this as their main source of news and among voters without university or college-level education.

Specifically, political micro-targeting was particularly effective when based on ideology, gender or educational level, much less so when based on race or age.

"Our results show that learning about on Facebook does not make voters more informed, but does make them less likely to change their voting choice, which is very in line with the concept of political polarisation," said Federica Libernini, from the ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

"This effect is particularly visible among men, Republican voters and people with a low level of education," said Libernini.

"Thanks to predictive analytics, companies like Facebook offer a toolkit for targeting voters at an extremely granular level based on their previous online behaviour," said Michela Redoano, Associate Professor in the University of Warwick in the UK.

"These online campaign channels are potentially very powerful political instruments. It is therefore vital that we understand how political campaigns on work, their impact on voter behaviour, and, ultimately, on election results," said Redoano.

Antonio Russo, from ETH Zurich, points out that Facebook's impact on turnout "suggests that has great potential for stimulating the political participation of people who would otherwise have lost interest in "

"In a world where confidence in democracy is dwindling, I believe this is good news. However, we still have much to learn about whether the information that voters are exposed to on social media really helps them make informed choices," said Russo.

First Published: Sun, November 25 2018. 10:35 IST
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