Election 2020: Who spends what to get your vote?

Social media platforms have played a major and often invisible role in elections around the world in recent years, and with our general election now just three weeks away, parties and candidates are busy spending and targeting voters online, writes Joyce Fegan

Election 2020: Who spends what to get your vote?

Facebook and other social media platforms have played a major and often invisible role in democratic elections around the world in recent years. From the US presidential election of 2016 to the Brexit referendum before that, and even more recently in the UK general election, we have seen parties spend big online, and without any accountability for the content of their communications.

With a general election just three weeks away, Irish political parties and candidates are targeting voters online now too.

For a 10-month period from March 2019 to January 14, 2020, Irish parties spent €45,442 on Facebook ads, with several individual candidates spending more than €10,000 each on Facebook ads.

These ads are targeted very specifically at users who match a certain criteria, such as age or location or gender.

Furthermore, users might not know that an ad had been previously “sponsored”.

There are currently no laws governing online political campaigning in Ireland, even though there are strict rules and limits for all other political communications and electioneering.

The Irish Examiner accessed the Facebook transparency section of each of the parties’ pages, as well as several high-profile candidates and politicians, to see how much money was spent on ads. Any individual can do this and see how much money was spent by a political party’s page on ads in their country of residence.

Below is a breakdown of the spend on, and analysis of, ads by all of the 11 parties and several candidates between the period of March 2019 and January 14, 2020.

1: Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin speaks to reporters outside RTE television studio in Dublin. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday January 19, 2020.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin speaks to reporters outside RTE television studio in Dublin. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday January 19, 2020.

Fianna Fáil spent €13,922 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 38,000 followers. It was set up on July 1, 2009. It is managed by three people in Ireland.

The transparency section of the party’s Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, some of the ads that Fianna Fáil ran included criticising Fine Gael and Transport and Sports Minister Shane Ross.

Fianna Fáil spent between €200 and €299 on an ad in December 2019, that criticised Fine Gael.

“Under Fine Gael more than 215,000 children are waiting on healthcare” is the caption for the ad which links to a video on the matter.

So far the ad has received between 20,000 and 25,000 impressions.

This ad has been targeted mostly at men. Men aged between 35 and 44 were the most targeted age and gender (13%). This was followed by men aged between 45 and 54 (12%) and men aged between 25 and 34 (also 12%).

Facebook users in the Dublin area were the most targeted geographically (24%). This was followed by users in Cork (9%) and then Galway (5%).

Another Fianna Fáil ad shows a video of their TD Marc MacSharry “taking on” Minister Shane Ross.

The party paid between €100 and €199 to promote a video called “Watch Marc MacSharry take on Shane Ross over the latest shambles to beset our crippled transport network”.

This ad ran on November 22 and received between 15,000 and 20,000 impressions.

It was shown mostly to men, with the top three targeted age groups being men in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Geographically, Fianna Fáil asked Facebook to show it to users based in Dublin mostly (48%) and then Cork (15%).

A follow-up ad was run called “Round 2” between Mr Ross and Mr MacSharry. This time it was shown mostly to men aged between 18 and 24 (28%) and then men aged between 25 and 34 (19%). It cost the party between €100 and €199 and was shown to users in Dublin mostly (50%) and then Cork (15%).

2: Fine Gael

TD Noel Rock, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD Hildegarde Naughton and Enviroment Minister Richard Bruton, at the launch of Fine Gael???s climate action plan in Ballymun, Dublin. Leo Varadkar has insisted Ireland is a safe country following the murder of a teenager and a number of violent crimes in recent days. (Aine McMahon/PA Wire)
TD Noel Rock, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD Hildegarde Naughton and Enviroment Minister Richard Bruton, at the launch of Fine Gael???s climate action plan in Ballymun, Dublin. Leo Varadkar has insisted Ireland is a safe country following the murder of a teenager and a number of violent crimes in recent days. (Aine McMahon/PA Wire)

Fine Gael spent €13,585 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14 of this year.

Their official page has approximately 38,000 followers. It was set up on January 21, 2010. It is managed by four people in Ireland, down from eight people before Christmas.

The transparency section of the party’s Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, some of the ads that Fine Gael ran included criticising Fianna Fáil and promoting Self Employed Week.

Between September 7 and September 9, 2019 Fine Gael ran a #RecklessFiannFáil ad ad criticising Fianna Fáil. Between €500 and €999 was spent on the ad.

“Everyone should watch this video. Has Fianna Fáil learned nothing?” was the headline of the ad, with a link to a video.

It received between 100,000 and 200,000 impressions.

Men and voters living in Dublin were the main targets for the ad.

Facebook users living in Dublin (30%) were the most targeted geographically, followed by Cork at 10% and Galway at 5%.

In terms of gender and age, men aged between 35 and 44 were the most targeted demographic (19%), followed by men aged between 25 and 34 (17%) and men aged between 45 and 54 (14%). The most targeted cohort of women were those aged between 45 and 54 (6%).

Another Fine Gael ad related to Self Employed Week. The party spent between €1,000 and €5,000 on this ad which showed video interviews with self-employed people in Ireland.

It received between 200,000 and 500,000 impressions and ran between July 29, and August 2, 2019.

This ad was targeted mostly at women aged between 35 and 44 (16%), and then men aged between 35 and 44 (15%).

Geographically, Fine Gael targeted mostly people living in Dublin (33%) and then Facebook users in Cork (8%).

h2]3: Sinn Féin[/h2]

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald during a press brieifng where Sinn Fein announced its commitment to halt planned increases to the age at which workers are entitled to a State pension, and commit to allowing workers to receive a pension at 65 at John Paul II Park Sports Centre, Cabra, Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald during a press brieifng where Sinn Fein announced its commitment to halt planned increases to the age at which workers are entitled to a State pension, and commit to allowing workers to receive a pension at 65 at John Paul II Park Sports Centre, Cabra, Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin spent €7,851 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14 of this year.

Their official page has approximately 170,000 followers. It was set up on May 14, 2011. It is managed by 11 people in Ireland, six people in the UK, and one person in Germany.

The transparency section of their Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, some of the ads that Sinn Féin ran included promoting candidates from the North in the British general election as well as ones promoting Irish unity.

“Irish Republican party dedicated to the reunification of Ireland and the creation of a 32-county democratic socialist republic”, is the caption on an ad that Sinn Féin ran on November 25, 2019, just before the by-elections.

Less than €100 was spent by Sinn Féin on boosting this Facebook post and it received less than 1,000 impressions.

The ad was shown only to women Facebook users living in Co Cork.

“Don’t let Leo get another TD. On Friday you need to vote Mark Ward No. 1. Polls are open 7am to 10pm. #standingup4you #time4unity,” was one of several ads that the party ran around the time of the by-elections in November.

Less than €100 was spent by Sinn Féin on boosting this Facebook post and it received less than 1,000 impressions.

It was shown mostly to men aged between 25 and 34 (24%). Only Facebook users in Dublin were selected to see this ad.

4: Labour

Luke Carroll member of Labour Youth,Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly & Chloe Manahan member of labour youth during a press briefing by the Labour Party & Labour Youth at the Communications Workers Union offices Dublin where voters where urged to ensure they are registered to vote and publish our proposals for electoral reform. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Luke Carroll member of Labour Youth,Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly & Chloe Manahan member of labour youth during a press briefing by the Labour Party & Labour Youth at the Communications Workers Union offices Dublin where voters where urged to ensure they are registered to vote and publish our proposals for electoral reform. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Labour party spent €5,676 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 26,000 followers. It was set up on September 14, 2009. It is managed by nine people in Ireland and one person in the UK.

The transparency section of Labour’s Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, the Labour party ran ads promoting candidates in the by-elections, comments around Budget 2020, and a clip from RTÉ One’s news showing one of their elected politicians being interviewed.

Between October 13 and October 16, 2019, Labour ran an ad criticising Budget 2020. The budget had been announced on October 8.

Between €100 and €499 was spent on Labour’s sponsored post about the Do Nothing Budget. The ad had between 100,000 and 200,000 impressions.

The target audience for the ad was 24% women between the ages of 18 and 24, followed by 21% women between the ages of 25 and 34.

The next most targeted demographic was men between the ages of 18 and 24.

In terms of voters’ geographic location, Labour chose to show this ad to people mostly living in Dublin (46%), followed by people living in Cork (10%).

Another example of an ad paid for by Labour was for a by-election candidate in Co Wexford.

George Lawlor was running for the party in November’s election and on one ad between €100 and €499 was spent promoting the candidate online.

This ad had between 25,000 and 30,000 impressions and was boosted between November 25 and 29.

The ad was targeted at people living in Wexford only and it was shown to men aged between 25 and 34 (14%) and then to “unknown” gender but in the age bracket of 35 to 44 (14%).

5: Social Democrats

Roisin Shortall during a Press Briefing by the Social Democrats at the Central Hotel ,Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Roisin Shortall during a Press Briefing by the Social Democrats at the Central Hotel ,Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Social Democrats spent €2,004 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 9,500 followers. It was set up on July 8, 2015. It is managed by five people in Ireland.

The transparency section of the Social Democrats’ Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, some of the ads that the Social Democrats ran include promoting candidates for both the European, local and by-elections as well as general ones trying to recruit new members.

In an ad that ran from September 16 to 21, the Social Democrats spent less than €100 targeting new members.

“Calling all optimists! We know we can do much better. We’d love your help to build a more fair and sustainable future for all. #SocDems #sustainablecommunities,” read the ad alongside a link on how to “get involved” and a subtitled video with one of their party leaders, Catherine Murphy TD.

This ad received between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions and was shown to mostly women.

It was targeted mostly at women aged between 18 and 24 (58%) and then women aged between 25 and 34 (20%).

It was shown to Facebook users living in Dublin mostly (45%), followed by Cork (9%).

“Let’s get Ireland back on its bike!” is ad the Social Democrats ran between May 8 and 9, in the run-up to the local and European elections.

The party put less than €100 behind the ad, which came in the form of a video talking about a “cycling revolution”.

The ad received between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions, and was targeted more predominantly at men, in the younger age brackets.

Geographically it was shown to Facebook users living mostly in Dublin (54%), followed by Cork (13%).

6: Green Party

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan with Deputy Leader Catherine Martin taking part in a canvass at the Dropping Well Dublin. Photo Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan with Deputy Leader Catherine Martin taking part in a canvass at the Dropping Well Dublin. Photo Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Green Party spent €1,062 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 16,000 followers. It was set up on June 16, 2009. It is managed by six people in Ireland and one person in Belgium.

The transparency section of the Green Party’s Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, some of the ads that the Green Party ran included promoting candidates in the by-elections and candidates in the European elections.

An ad called “Green is the new black” ran from November 28 to 29, on which the Green Party spent less than €100.

“Help turn Black Friday Green this year, by shopping locally, striking for climate and voting Green!” read the ad, which was posted alongside a video of the party’s by-election candidates in the various constituencies.

It received between 1,000 and 2,000 impressions and targeted more men than women.

Men between 18 and 24 were the most targeted voter (20%), followed by women of the same age (18%).

It was shown to Facebook users based mostly in Dublin (69%), followed by those in Cork (18%).

An ad promoting Green Party candidate for Europe, Ciarán Cuffe, and who went on to top the polls in Dublin with 63,849 first preference votes, ran from May 17 to 22.

The Green Party put between €100 and €499 on this ad, which shows a subtitled video of the candidate out and about in Dublin.

The ad received between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions and was targeted predominantly at men.

Men aged between 18 and 24 years of age were the most targeted (19%), as were men aged between 25 and 34 (also 19%). The next most targeted group were women aged between 18 and 24 (12%).

The ad was shown only to Facebook users in Dublin.

7: Aontú

Election 2020: Who spends what to get your vote?

New party Aontú spent €1,034 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 8,600 followers. It was set up on January 22, 2019. It is managed by seven people in Ireland and one person in the UK.

The transparency section of Aontú’s Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, some of the ads that Aontú ran include promoting candidates from the North in the British general election as well as one advertising a public meeting opposing abortion.

In an ad that ran from October 14 to 16, and costing between €100 and €499, Aontú promoted a public meeting in the North.

“Public meeting stopping an extreme abortion regime coming to the Northern Ireland,” was the title of the ad.

It received between 5,000 and 10,000 impressions, and was targeted mostly at young men.

Men between the ages of 18 and 24 were the most targeted group (12%), followed by men aged between 25 and 34 (11%).

It was shown in the North mostly (92%) and then Co Louth (6%).

A similar ad ran twice more, but targeting a slightly different demographic.

Aontú spent between €100 and €499 on an ad with a photoshopped image of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar which criticised Fine Gael.

“FG burning through Tax Payers’ money while there is no money to deal with housing, health and Garda crisis,” was the headline for the ad, which once clicked on brought Facebook users to a lengthy statement from Aontú party leader Peadar Tóibín.

The text ran alongside a photoshopped image of Mr Varadkar holding a lit blowtorch at a large pile of bank notes. The image also listed bullet point claims stating the alleged number of people on various waiting lists.

It received between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions online and was targeted mostly at men. Men aged between 45 and 54 (17%) and men aged between 55 and 64 (17%) were the most targeted, followed by men over 65 (13%).

It was shown to Facebook users living mostly in Dublin (45%) and those in Cork (12%).

8: The Workers’ Party of Ireland

The Workers’ Party spent €208 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 8,300 followers. It was set up on January 24, 2013. It is managed by six people in Ireland and two people in the UK.

The transparency section of the Workers’ Party Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, some of the ads that the Workers’ Party ran include a criticism of Budget 2020 and recruitment posts.

“Budget 2020 — Fine Gael can talk about ‘ringfencing’ carbon taxes all it wants,” was the headline of the Workers’ Party ad, which ran from October 8-9.

The party spent less than €100 promoting the post which talked about the “carbon tax”.

“The reality is, Fine Gael will use the carbon tax — like all taxes it raises off workers — to pay for more subsidies for its wealthy voters,” read the ad, which received less than 1,000 impressions in total.

It was targeted predominantly at boys aged between 13 and 17 (33%), followed by girls in the same age bracket (20%).

It was promoted only to Facebook users based in Dublin.

“Open meeting about the Workers’ Party’s history, ideas and politics. Learn what we stand for and how you can get involved,” was the headline of another ad.

Less than €100 was spent on this ad, and it received between 5,000 and 10,000 impressions.

It gave the time, location and other details of the meeting and it was targeted mostly at men aged between 25 and 34 (19%), followed by men aged between 35 and 44.

It was promoted for people living in Dublin only.

9: People Before Profit

People Before Profit (PBP) spent less than €100 on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 49,000 followers.

It was set up on February 7, 2014. It is managed by seven people in Ireland and three people in the UK.

The transparency section of People Before Profit’s Facebook profile states: “This page has run ads about social issues, elections or politics”.

During the period of March and December, the three ads that People Before Profit ran included promoting a just transition to a carbon neutral economy and videos with its TDs talking about issues such as housing and women’s health.

In an ad that ran from December 10 to 15, PBP TD Bríd Smith speaks about the cervical check scandal in a subtitled video.

“We are still using the same labs at the heart of the Cervical Check Scandal. Outsourcing and privatisation take womens’ lives,” reads the ad, which the party spent less than €100 promoting.

It received between 10,000 and 15,000 impressions and was shown to predominantly women.

Women aged between 35 and 44 (12%) and 45 and 54 (12%) were the most targeted groups.

Facebook users in Dublin were the most targeted geographically (39%), followed by Cork (9%).

In a similar ad, also running from December 5 to 10, PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett talks about the housing crisis.

Less than €100 was spent promoting this subtitled video, with the headline: “As people take to the streets demanding solutions to the housing crisis, we show how it is possible to have housing for all”.

It received between 15,000 and 20,000 impressions and was shown mostly to men. The most targeted group was men aged between 35 and 44 (15%), followed by men aged 45 to 54 (13%).

Geographically the ad was shown to Facebook users based mostly in Dublin (40%), followed by those in Cork (9%).

10: Solidarity — the Left Alternative

Solidarity- People Before Profit TDs (l to r) Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Mick Barry, Brid Smith and Gino Kenny at their General Election 2020 Launch in Buswell’s Hotel Dublin. Photograph: Leah Farrell / Photocall Ireland
Solidarity- People Before Profit TDs (l to r) Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Mick Barry, Brid Smith and Gino Kenny at their General Election 2020 Launch in Buswell’s Hotel Dublin. Photograph: Leah Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The Solidarity Party have spent no money on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 18,400 followers. It was set up on September 17, 2013. It is managed by 14 people in Ireland and one person in Germany.

The transparency section of their Facebook profile states: “This page is not currently running ads”.

11: Renua

Renua has spent no money on Facebook ads between March 2019 and January 14.

Their official page has approximately 10,000 followers.

It was set up on March 13, 2015. The page is currently managed by two people in Ireland.

The transparency section of their Facebook profile states: “This page is not currently running ads”.

More on this topic

Leo Varadkar opens policy talks with other partiesLeo Varadkar opens policy talks with other parties

Dáil ditches next week's vote for new TaoiseachDáil ditches next week's vote for new Taoiseach

Pearse Doherty: A second election would be ‘failure of politics’Pearse Doherty: A second election would be ‘failure of politics’

'Demented and desperate': Brid Smith hits out at Varadkar's Sinn Féin comments'Demented and desperate': Brid Smith hits out at Varadkar's Sinn Féin comments