Politics

Election 2020: The gender advertising split

In this week's round-up of Facebook election advertising we see some parties' ads are being seen by more women than men and the National Party splashes out over $28,000 on Facebook advertisements in one week

Which party is trying to gain your vote?

Facebook's advertising transparency tool allows people to peek behind the scenes of paid advertising run by political parties. It shows the age and gender of people who have seen advertisements the political parties have run.

Aro Digital has been collating data on how the different parties are using the platform. Co-founder Tim Dorrian said ACT has been making heavy use of the platform for its messages, running more than 1070 ads run so far with a spend of $41,766 (up 22 percent week-on-week).

"It looks like ACT has split out their individual ads to target each individual region - meaning that they can increase their budget to spend money in areas where they’re seeing the best engagement."

At first glance it looks like ACT is preferring to advertise to men. Dorrian said it's difficult to say whether this is intentional, or as a result of targeting by interest groups. When advertisements are added to Facebook there are a number of ways the advertisers can select who is likely to see their advertising.

First 10 advertisements for ACT in the Facebook Ad Library with the gender and age of the people who saw them. Source: Facebook Ad Library

Selecting the gender, age and and location of who you would like Facebook to show you advertisement to is one way for an advertiser to target a specific audience. Another way is to show ads to people who are interested in a topic. If most of the people who are interested in that topic are male, then the people who see the messages will be more likely to be males.

Advertisers can also create what Facebook calls a 'Custom Audience'. This could be from uploading a database of email subscribers, or from information gathered by a pixel on the advertiser's website.

This enables what's referred to as micro-targeting. This ability to home in on certain audiences has been contentious. In the United States 2016 election this was used by the Trump campaign to to target African Americans with advertisements that included Hilary Clinton calling gang members "super-predators".

The disquiet at this sort of practice has led to Facebook allowing people to opt out of being advertised to through lists. To turn this function off, a Facebook user needs to go into their settings and change it advertiser-by-advertiser. 

There's another advantage to having a custom audience on Facebook. From the custom audience you can create what's called a 'Lookalike Audience'. Facebook analyses your custom audience and finds brand new people who share similar qualities to your custom audience. If your custom audience is full of 18 to 34-year-old men, the lookalike audience Facebook shows your advertisement to match this. 

Facebook's transparency tool doesn't give transparency to the settings chosen by the advertiser. You can't see who they wanted to target but you can see who eventually saw the message. 

ACT isn't alone in a having a male-heavy advertisement audience. New Zealand First's advertisements also show a male skew.

First 10 advertisements for NZ First in the Facebook Ad Library with the gender and age of the people who saw them. Source: Facebook Ad Library

The National Party advertising audience also seems male-heavy, with the exception of advertising promoting roading projects. It has also targeted women with campaigns, such as a campaign targeted to rural women promising funding toward gynaecological cancer protection.

First 10 advertisements for National in the Facebook Ad Library with the gender and age of the people who saw them. Source: Facebook Ad Library

On the flip-side, almost all of Labour's advertisements have a skew toward women viewers. 

First 10 advertisements for Labour in the Facebook Ad Library with the gender and age of the people who saw them. Source: Facebook Ad Library

The Greens are the only party currently in government who seem to have a range of ads with some gaining more female viewers and some with more male viewers. 

First 10 advertisements for the Greens in the Facebook Ad Library with the gender and age of the people who saw them. Source: Facebook Ad Library

Where's the smartest place to spend your money?

In New Zealand, women won the right to vote in 1893. The 2018 Census estimated there were 2,319,558 men and 2,380,197 women of voting age in New Zealand, meaning 60,000 more potential female voters than male. To put this in perspective, the total number of party votes ACT received in 2017 election was 13,075.

Women are also more likely to cast a ballot. In the 2014 election, 76.1 percent of women voted and 73.7 percent of men, according to a study by Victoria University of Wellington academics. Based on the census numbers above, this works out at 101,815 more women voters than men.

It's not just New Zealand where women are more engaged with voting. In the United States for every election since 1980, the proportion of eligible females who voted has exceeded the proportion of eligible males.

Who is spending money?

The National Party spent up large last week, splashing just over $28,000 on Facebook advertising. They focus on two different topics with several aimed at small business, and other region specific advertisement promising new roads. One advertisement was promised to keep regional polytechnics open.

Social media follows by party

The number of followers a party has gives an indication of how many people are seeing party messages posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter without the party paying to have the message seen. Labour, the Greens and National have substantially more followers than other political parties. 

The politicians

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's follower numbers dwarf other politicians; however, there's no way to easily tell how many followers are based in New Zealand.  

The biggest percentage increase in followers on the previous week's numbers is Billy Te Kahika with 387 new followers. Looking at numbers rather than percentage increase on the previous week, Ardern topped the list adding another 7714 followers.

Aro Digital is a Wellington-based digital marketing agency that provides data-driven solutions and results. In the lead-up to the 2020 Election, Aro Digital launched its Election Insights & Digital Transparency Report, in an effort to give all Kiwis information about how social media is being utilised in politics.

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