The Industry

How Much Were Politicians Even Using Ads on Twitter?

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage.
The candidates have been spending way more on Facebook than on Twitter.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the platform would ban political ads around the world in late November. The move was a not-so-subtle rebuke of Facebook’s much-criticized policy of not fact-checking ads from politicians on its platforms. It was also immediately interpreted as an act of baiting. The Washington Post published an article titled “Twitter placed the political ad ball in Facebook’s court,” while CNBC went with the headline “Mark Zuckerberg vs. Jack Dorsey is the most interesting battle in Silicon Valley.”

While Twitter’s decision seems to be garnering generally positive reactions—Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all praised the company—the 2020 presidential field is somewhat split on the ban. President Donald Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale called it “a very dumb decision for their stockholders,” while Joe Biden’s campaign put out a more measured statement: “It would be unfortunate to suggest that the only option available to social media companies to do so is the full withdrawal of political advertising, but when faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out.” Pete Buttigieg has called the ban a “bold step,” and Amy Klobuchar called on Congress to set consistent ad standards across Facebook and Twitter.

But do ads on Twitter… really matter? Because Twitter is used by so many politicians, journalists, activists, and, well, trolls, the platform overall plays an influential role in any presidential election. But business analysts estimate that money from political ads is not likely to be critical for Twitter’s revenues—and, by extension, is probably not very critical to the campaigns. To get a sense of just how much the current presidential candidates are actually using social media ads to rally support, here are the ad spending totals for each campaign, according to Facebook and Twitter’s databases on political ad spending:

Democrats

Amy Klobuchar
• Twitter: $87,100
• Facebook: $2,096,165

Andrew Yang
• Twitter: $20,600
• Facebook: $1,367,968

Bernie Sanders
• Twitter: $320,900
• Facebook: $4,200,696

Beto O’Rourke
• Twitter: $1,105,400
• Facebook: $9,084,474

Elizabeth Warren
• Twitter: $910,600
• Facebook: $4,728,318

Cory Booker
• Twitter: $51,200
• Facebook: 2,368,601

Joe Biden
• Twitter: $619,100
• Facebook: $2,808,898

John Delaney
• Twitter: $20,600
• Facebook: $226,862

Kamala Harris
• Twitter: $1,100,000
• Facebook: $3,469,319

Pete Buttigieg
• Twitter: $381,900
• Facebook: $4,955,126

Steve Bullock
• Twitter: $14,108.20
• Facebook: $280,911

Tulsi Gabbard
• Twitter: $181,100
• Facebook: $632,786

Michael Bennet
• Twitter: $30,431.90
• Facebook: $970,243

Julián Castro
• Twitter: $30,900
• Facebook: $1,806,272

Wayne Messam
• Twitter: Not listed as a political campaigning advertiser
• Facebook: $12,094

Joe Sestak
• Twitter: Not listed as a political campaigning advertiser
• Facebook: $641

Tom Steyer
• Twitter: $537,400
• Facebook: $12,172,272

Marianne Williamson
• Twitter: $26,900
• Facebook: $1,015,610

Republicans

Donald Trump
• Twitter: $6,568
• Facebook: $21,267,284

Joe Walsh
• Twitter: Not listed as a political campaigning advertiser
• Facebook: $61,115

Bill Weld
• Twitter: Not listed as a political campaigning advertiser
• Facebook: $25,510

So as of Thursday, the candidates currently running for president have spent roughly $5.4 million on Twitter ads and $73.5 million on Facebook ads. Such a comparison is obviously limited in its usefulness, as the two companies are operating on very different scales. Twitter had roughly 145 million daily active users in the last quarter and earned $3.04 billion in revenue last year. Facebook had 2.45 billion daily active users and earned $55.8 billion in revenue. In addition, the scope of Twitter’s ban is much wider than the presidential campaign: Ads for any election and any political issue in any country are no longer allowed. The 2020 presidential campaign ad spending is just a slice of that.

It seems safe to say, though, that the campaigns are relying a lot more on Facebook than they are on Twitter. If Facebook were to implement a similar ban, it would radically change the political ad spending landscape. In the end, it seems like Twitter didn’t really need the campaigns, and the campaigns didn’t really need Twitter.