Blowout Counties Make the Case for Targeted Ads  

Microtargeting in digital advertising has never been better or more important than it is today.

Nationally, 22% of Americans live in what are referred to as “landslide counties.”  These are localities where one party can expect to earn 75% or better of the vote — a guaranteed win. Shockingly, landslide counties represent more than 80% of the two-party presidential vote in America.

In the ten 2022 Senate battlegrounds, there are 146 landslide counties and 92% of them were won by the GOP in 2020.  However, in total votes, Democrats won with 53% of the actual vote. 

Looking at this sorting of counties is yet another lens through which we can experience the growing partisan divide between urban and rural America. Of the super landslide counties nationally (80% or higher), the GOP only has two with a population greater than 50,000, while the Democrats have 22.  Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in small, white, rural counties. In Biden’s they were in major cities, college towns, and counties with large percentages of nonwhite voters.

The GOP has a geographically spread-out electorate living outside city cores.  While GOP voters exist in urban cores, they are expensive to reach and likely have different concerns from their non-urban counterparts.  But reaching rural voters means multiple media markets, local papers with low circulation, and fractured radio and cable penetration.  Democrats face a different challenge.  Voters are piled on top of each other inside expensive media markets, with high barriers to entry.

All of these challenges are ready-made for digital.  Online advertising can overcome the geographic challenges of a spread-out electorate and reach GOP voters living in urban cores who may not otherwise be targeted.  Typically, the concern with digital is reach with quality impressions, but new possibilities offered by OTT/Connected devices allow digital to finally penetrate into television, taking persuasion options far beyond just web video.

In 2020, Donald Trump barely edged out Biden in the 2022 competitive Senate states 50-49 by just one-tenth of a percent, but Trump won just three of the ten states outright leaving Biden with a 7-3 win.  Most of Trump’s margin came out of Florida and Ohio.  Biden posted a solid win in Colorado leaving AZ, GA, NV, NH, NC, PA, and WI as priority battlegrounds in what is a very competitive Senate map.  In all of these states, the margins of victory were less than 75,000 votes.

More than 20% of the nation’s counties gave 80% or more of its two-party presidential votes to either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the greater South, interior West, and Great Plains, while Biden’s were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic nonwhite voters.

The result is that Trump won his landslide counties by a plurality of 3.2 million votes, while Biden took his 32 super landslide counties by a margin of 4.85 million votes. Put another way: Trump’s averaged less than 5,000 votes per county, while Biden’s average victory exceeded 150,000 votes per county.

Smart campaigns know that some of the most important decisions they will make aren’t about issues, they are about resource allocation. Each side has a limited set of resources (money, volunteers, messages, and time) and must carefully decide how to best use them to drive the greatest impact.

In statewide elections, these tradeoffs can be particularly painful.  In a close election, how you target can make all the difference by understanding where placing your limited resources can drive the greatest impact.