How Labour’s Senedd campaign outspent their rivals on Facebook – including in the Rhondda
In an election that depended more than any other on online campaigning due to Covid, Welsh Labour substantially outspent their rivals on Facebook advertising – including in the Rhondda.
Labour spent £62,590 on Facebook adverts targeted at voters in Wales between March and April, according to the website’s ad library.
That compares to £51,983 spent by the Conservatives, £30,401 spent by Plaid Cymru and just £5,961 spent by the Liberal Democrats.
Among the parties which didn’t win seats, the Greens spent the most with £24,923, over two thirds of which went on adverts aimed at convincing Labour voters to lend them their support on the regional list.
They were followed by UKIP with £18,885 worth of ads, Reform UK with £7,571, Abolish the Welsh Assembly with £2,209 and Propel with £2,220.
The Green party also had the highest spending candidate of any of the parties, with Emily Durrant spending £6,759 to promote her campaign in Brecon and Radnorshire.
That put her ahead of Caroline Jones, the former UKIP MS who spent £4,475 standing as an independent in Bridgend, and Labour’s Rob James who spent £4,128 in an effort to unseat Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.
Spending on Facebook adverts however still doesn’t come close to the cost of paper propaganda. The Conservatives spent £312,000 on sending leaflets to Welsh homes during the 2019 UK general election, compared to £56,000 spent on Facebook adverts.
But a ban on door-to-door canvassing for much of the campaign raised their importance and these figures give a first indication of the financial firepower deployed by each party in lieu of full spending records to be published by the Electoral Commission later this year.
They confirm the financial imbalance between the two major parties and Plaid Cymru after new figures revealed how Plaid had failed to attract major donations ahead of the election.
Plaid’s Westminster leader Liz Saville-Roberts previously wrote for Nation.Cymru about the importance of the party’s ground campaign in overcoming the disparity in spending power, telling activists: “Wales needs you to do what the Tory and Labour social media algorithms can never bankroll: the quality time of face-to-face human contact.
“How else will we bring about the defeat of the unseen digital manipulators save by the sincerity of the spoken word.”
The data also offers insights into which messages parties pushed during the campaign and who they targeted.
Women over 65 who remember the miner’s strike were most likely to be shown a Labour advert featuring a photo of Margaret Thatcher, while some attack ads against Plaid Cymru were targeted at younger voters. Sixty-one per cent of the audience for a Labour advert saying “a vote for Plaid Cymru risks letting the Tories in through the back door” were under 35s.
Plaid Cymru meanwhile spent almost a third of its resources for Facebook adverts on videos and visuals presenting the regional list system as a “simple choice” between them and the Tories. The 19 ads costing over £9,000 were particularly targeted at voters between the ages of 25 and 34.
Plaid’s dependence on younger voters compared to the other parties is also reflected in the fact it ran four ads encouraging 16 and 17-year-olds to register to vote, compared to just one by Labour and none from the Tories, who both paid for dozens of ads pushing older people to register for a postal vote. Plaid Cymru and the Greens were also the only major parties to use the Welsh language in their paid posts.
It’s Plaid’s decisions about which candidates to promote through sponsored ads that might raise eyebrows in the wake of Leanne Wood’s defeat to Labour’s Buffy Williams in the Rhondda.
Plaid ran two adverts costing £299 mentioning the constituency and none mentioning their former leader directly, whereas the party spend almost £900 on adverts pushing their candidate in Wrexham, Carrie Harper, and £1,897 on three adverts raising the profile of Nadine Marshall, who was standing to be police and crime commissioner for south Wales. Both came third although Harper narrowly missed out on a regional list seat.
By contrast, Labour ran 10 adverts targeted at voters in the Rhondda, including two mentioning their candidate, at a cost of £1,598. Labour did though spend similar amounts on seats they held comfortably against a Tory challenge, including £1,600 on Newport West, £1,500 on Cardiff North and £1,500 on Gower.
As Nation.Cymru reported before the election, lower spending in Labour seats targeted by Plaid Cymru, such as just £199 spent on Caerphilly, £999 in Blaenau Gwent or £1,297 in Llanelli, suggests Transport House strategists weren’t ever really concerned about losing them.
Interestingly given the pandemic, Labour only ran one sponsored advert about the NHS, instead prioritising their promises on jobs, PCSOs and the living wage for carers.
Plaid have been criticised for making independence a central element of their campaign. But it was the Conservatives who spent the most on messages around independence.
Andrew RT Davies’ party spent around £4,400 on over 70 adverts mentioning an independence referendum, the need to “protect the union” or the risk of “constitutional tinkering”, most of which were designed to motivate older voters to sign up for a postal vote.
The Conservatives also tried to turn out their voters by playing up their chances of victory with a dozen adverts almost £3,000 pushing an ITV article which predicted the “closest devolved election in history.”
The Conservatives ran more ads featuring Boris Johnson than their Welsh leader Andrew RT Davies. A video message from the Prime Minister was one of the single most expensive Facebook ads run during the election, with the Conservatives putting £3,500 behind it.
One of the Conservatives’ least viewed adverts was one asking voters “help us get rid of Drakeford”, which was shown to a maximum of 5,000 users, reflecting the First Minister’s growing popularity through the campaign. Later in the campaign, the Tories switched to adverts asking voters to “send Labour a message” by voting Conservative.