Online Lies Aren’t Helping Donald Trump Much

The New York Times informs us that Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is blitzing the online world:

On any given day, the Trump campaign is plastering ads all over Facebook, YouTube and the millions of sites served by Google, hitting the kind of incendiary themes — immigrant invaders, the corrupt media — that play best on platforms where algorithms favor outrage and political campaigns are free to disregard facts.

….That campaigns are now being fought largely online is hardly a revelation, yet only one political party seems to have gotten the message. While the Trump campaign has put its digital operation firmly at the center of the president’s re-election effort, Democrats are struggling to internalize the lessons of the 2016 race and adapt to a political landscape shaped by social media.

My goodness. I guess Democrats must be taking a pummeling as Trump’s approval rating climbs and climbs. Let’s take a look:

Huh. After six months of blitzing, Trump’s net approval rating has gone down from -8.2 to -11.5. It’s almost as if all those outrageous online ads have had no appreciable effect on anyone but Trump’s base, which already approved of him anyway.

It’s possible, of course, that without all the online ads Trump’s approval rating would have dropped even more. However, it’s also possible that incendiary online ads are mostly a waste of money because they appeal only to true believers in the first place. I think the latter is more likely.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with keeping your base worked up. It’s a time-honored strategy, and Democrats will be doing it too once they agree on a candidate. But Trump isn’t going to win in 2020 with a base strategy. His base is just way too small. He’s going to win—if he wins—by taking some votes from the middle. He might or might not do that via social media, but he definitely won’t do it with obviously scurrilous ads. That’s the kind of thing that turns off moderates.

Bottom line: don’t worry too much about the fact that Trump is able to lie online, especially this far ahead of Election Day. It may keep his base frothing at the mouth, but that’s about all. It’s not the game changer people sometimes make it out to be.

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