One ad executive estimates that the entire state of Michigan could have been swayed in the 2016 election for merely $42,800

How far can $US42,800 take you on Facebook? Far enough to swing an election, apparently.

According to Ben Kunz, EVP of marketing and content at media agency Mediassociates, it could have cost as little $US42,800 to swing the 10,700 Michigan voters that eventually tipped the scale in favour of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential elections.

“That’s the scary power of Facebook. Its targeting is really, really powerful,” he added. “People like to think they can’t be persuaded, but the maths says it works.”

Kunz and his team made the estimate as part of a broader story by Business Insider in which Mediassociates and two other media agencies modelled the cost of using Facebook to reach voters in Wisconsin and Michigan with the intention of swaying their vote.

Facebook has said it discovered roughly $US100,000 in ad buys between June 2015 and May 2017 associated with roughly 3,000 ads that were used by Russian groups to influence the outcome of the election. A number of these ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin,
reported CNN, which are the two states where US President Donald Trump won by approximately 10,700 votes and 22,700 votes, respectively.

$US42,800 may seem like a paltry amount, but Facebook’s advanced and granular targeting options may have given that dollar amount significant reach and engagement. Anyone looking to swing an election in Michigan could easily pinpoint and target undecided voters using various data tactics. After that, “it wouldn’t cost much in ad spending to sway their opinions,” said Kunz.

Mediassociates’ model is based on two assumptions. One is a basic rule of thumb of digital advertising, which is that 1 out of 2,000 people (or 0.05%) who view an ad will respond or take action on the message. The second assumption is that it ia possible to target swing voters.

The model works backwards from the exact numbers of people by which Trump won both Wisconsin and Michigan, although, in reality, it’s possible that someone targeting swing voters could try to reach more people than that and therefore might spend more money on their campaign.

Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes. So assuming that only 0.05% viewers will react to an ad, a person would need to aim for about 21.4 million advertising impressions. Given that Facebook ads cost about $US2.00 for every 1,000 impressions, Kunz’s team estimates that to sway about 10,700 voters you’d need a budget of $US42,800.

“In reality, targeting this exact ‘swing voter’ population might take more effort, since some of your ads will reach the wrong people … and competitors might be fighting you with similar tactics,” Kunz told Business Insider. “But a clever political operator would just spend a little more. And for a few hundred grand, he or she could tip an entire presidential election.”

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