Republicans Are Spending $60 Million on a Digital Get-Out-the-Vote Campaign

With voting underway in more than 30 states, the Republican National Committee has begun a $60 million digital get-out-the-vote campaign that will harness social media, text messages, emails and other platforms to digitally chase voters.

The expansive effort leverages the vast data operation the party has built over the past three years, and will involve quickly filling the newsfeeds, inboxes and text threads of potential voters with information on how to vote and reminders about key deadlines.

“We can target you every step of the way,” said Richard Walters, the chief of staff of the R.N.C. “We know when you requested the ballot, and we know to continue following up with you until your ballot has been returned, and until we can see it has been returned.”

The $60 million initiative will complement the operations of the Trump campaign’s digital team, which will primarily focus on running persuasion ads, according to officials at the R.N.C.

While a crucial part of the digital get-out-the-vote effort will be persuading Republican voters who have requested an absentee ballot to turn it in, possibly by mail, it is a message that runs counter to President Trump’s frequent and baseless denunciations of mail ballots, which he called a “disaster” in the first presidential debate, suggesting without evidence that they would lead to a “rigged election.”

Mr. Trump has, however, sought to distinguish between mail-in ballots and absentee ballots by arguing, falsely, that the latter is less prone to fraud. (There are no meaningful differences between the two.) To counter any confusion, the R.N.C. has identified which voters are likely to vote by mail, regardless of the public message, and are encouraging them to send in their ballots.

“Where it is effective, we’re absolutely pushing it, regardless of what the political narrative is,” said Mr. Walters of voting by mail.

The R.N.C. campaign has recently run ads featuring members of the Trump family, including Donald Trump Jr. and Lara Trump, encouraging voters to return their ballots. The messaging for targeted text campaigns are similar. “In Florida, voting-by-mail absentee is the most secure way to ensure your Republican vote is counted this November,” one text from Ms. Trump reads.

In states that update voter files with data on ballot requests and applications, the R.N.C. will essentially track where each voter is in the mail-in-ballot process and serve them ads and text messages encouraging them to either request a ballot or turn one in.

The Trump campaign’s prolific texting operation, which is largely devoted to fund-raising at the moment, has helped set the tone. “It’s so urgent we BOTH texted you” a recent message from “Pres. Trump & VP Pence” said. The R.N.C. texts, Mr. Walters said, will have a similar feel.

The $60 million investment is a marked jump for the party’s digital get-out-the-vote program, which it invested just $2.9 million in for the 2016 cycle.

“It’s a new priority from the G.O.P. because typically this is not the type of money they would invest in that type of campaign,” said Filippo Trevisan, a professor of public communication at American University. “They’ve had get-out-the-vote efforts in the past but never to the level that we’re seeing.”

But, Mr. Trevisan noted, a massively expanded digital get-out-the-vote program is relatively untested, at least at this scale.

“It’s difficult to say whether they’re going to work or not for get-out-the-vote, because get-out-the-vote efforts really work best when you can involve some contact with the person that you are trying to persuade,” Mr. Trevisan said.

At the core of the new program is a revamped website that aims to be the single tool all ads push voters toward. The site is linked to the party’s data system, and will help it maintain digital tabs on its voters as well as collect data on online visitors.

The campaign will utilize nearly every social media platform, including Facebook and Snapchat, as well as ad space on YouTube. Although the site has seemingly endless advertising real estate among its billions of videos, there is a finite amount of what is known as “premium inventory” on the platform, namely in home page takeovers and unskippable pre-roll ads.

Though the Democrats have not outlined their digital get-out-the-vote operation, both the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee have been spending heavily on digital ads. The Biden campaign has regularly outspent Mr. Trump on Facebook, often by more than a third, and the D.N.C. reserved $22 million on YouTube for the general election.


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