A 2 million-person, campaign-wide field experiment shows how digital advertising affects voter turnout


We present the results of a massive, $8.9 million campaign-wide field experiment, conducted among 2 million moderate and low-information ``persuadable’’ voters in five battleground states during the 2020 US Presidential election. Treatment group subjects were exposed to an eight-month-long advertising program delivered via social media, designed to persuade people to vote against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden. On average, the program neither increased or decreased turnout. We find evidence of differential turnout effects by modeled level of Trump support: the campaign increased voting among Biden leaners by 0.4 percentage points (SE: 0.2pp) and decreased voting among Trump leaners by 0.3 percentage points (SE: 0.3pp), for a difference-in-CATES of 0.7 points t(1035571) = -2.09, p = 0.036, DIC = 0.7 points, 95% CI = [-0.014, -0.00]). An important but exploratory finding is that the strongest differential effects appear in early voting data, which may inform future work on early campaigning in a post-COVID electoral environment. Our results indicate that differential mobilization effects of even large digital advertising campaigns in presidential elections are likely to be modest.

Nature Human Behaviour