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Mike Bloomberg thinks a gun-control pitch works … in Texas

Jeremy B. Merrill
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks about his gun policy agenda in Aurora, Colorado, U.S. December 5, 2019.

Democrats advertising about gun-control plans in California and Massachusetts seems like a no-brainer.

But Texas?

Mike Bloomberg is spending far more money on ads promoting gun control than on his ability to beat Trump in Texas — a perhaps-surprising move in a deep-red state.

Mike Bloomberg’s campaign has outspent Bernie Sanders’s campaign twelve to one in the past two weeks, with about $16 million on Facebook (let alone television, YouTube, and memers’ instagram posts). The bulk of that effort has focused on his ability to defeat president Trump—but also on gun control and climate change. Bloomberg has donated substantial amounts of money to groups focused on those causes in the past few years.

That’s based on a Quartz analysis of more than 52,000 ads using artificial intelligence to guess what topic (or topics) an ad is about.

Here’s an example of each.

Gun control:

a Facebook ad from Mike Bloomberg's presidential campaign that reads "URGENT: Mike is proposing a ban on dangerous assault rifles and he needs your support. If you agree that these weapons have no place in our schools, our streets or our communities, add your name to Mike’s petition. We're getting 20,000 signatures by midnight. Add your support now!" and that says "Help us ban assault weapons?" over an image of Mike Bloomberg.

An ad from Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign that our model thinks is about gun control.

Beating Trump:

a Facebook ad from Mike Bloomberg's presidential campaign that says "Trump is scared. Wanna know why? Watch this." and "Polls: Mike beats Trump" and "Mike will get it done" with an image of bars showing poll results.

an ad from Mike Bloomberg’s campaign that our model thinks is about beating Trump.

It’s almost certain that Bloomberg’s campaign is targeting these ads even more granularly than by state, though Facebook does not provide that level of detail. It’s not clear, for example, whether the ads are shown disproportionately to voters in El Paso or Sutherland Springs, both sites of horrific mass shootings.

Bloomberg’s got his own data analytics and voter targeting firm, called Hawkfish. Hawkfish has uploaded to Facebook a list of particular voters—by name, email or phone number—for the campaign to target ads to. The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

One thing Texas, California, and Massachusetts have in common? Large urban and suburban populations. Bloomberg’s campaign may be betting that urban and suburban voters will be swayed most by messages about gun control.


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