Clinton and Trump Have Very Different Strategies for the Final Stretch

October 5, 2016

Correction, Oct. 6: Due to an error from the data provider, a previous version of this graphic reported incorrect advertising totals for each candidate. The graphic has been updated to reflect how much each candidate spent on television ads last week.

As the presidential campaign enters its final weeks, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are making their closing arguments in this long and bruising election. The candidates’ positions on the issues and their personal styles couldn’t be more different, and that’s true of the way they campaign, too. Bloomberg tracked every move Clinton and Trump made in the hectic week following the first debate—where they went, what they tweeted, how much they spent on ads—to see which voters they most want to win over with the precious days and dollars they have left.

Trump needs Florida; Clinton wants North Carolina

Polls and forecasts try to keep tabs on who’s leading in swing states, but if you really want to know where the campaigns expect the closest races on Election Day, look to where Clinton and Trump visit, and how often. No campaign resource is more finite than a candidate’s time, so the campaigns must carefully choose which voters get their personal attention. Trump’s first stop was to Florida for three campaign events. This reflects how important the state is to his chances of winning. Without Florida, Trump would need to sweep a handful of Midwestern swing states that have voted Democratic in recent presidential elections—explaining campaign stops in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

Clinton spent time in many of the same states as Trump, but prioritized North Carolina. She held a rally there the day after the debate and returned later in the week. For Clinton, winning the state—which Mitt Romney narrowly won in 2012--would likely put a dagger in Trump’s chances at the White House. Recent polls indicate the race is very close. While she can probably take the presidency without North Carolina, a win there would help her run up the score.

Clinton rakes in millions from rich people. And so does Trump.

Trump regularly derides Clinton as beholden to special interests and wealthy donors while claiming he funds his campaign with his own money and the help of small donors chipping in a few bucks here and there. That’s not the case. Last week alone, Trump rubbed elbows with his wealthiest benefactors in five private fundraisers, each requiring donors to put up thousands of dollars for the privilege of attending. Not to be outdone, Clinton held seven fundraisers of her own last week.

Trump tweets a lot. But not nearly as much as Clinton.

Trump’s tweets tend to get a lot of publicity, but it’s the Clinton campaign that’s more prolific on social media. Bloomberg tracked each post Clinton and Trump made to the official social media accounts listed on their campaign websites and found that the Clinton campaign posted almost twice as much as the Trump campaign.

All social media posts

Trump uses social media as an extension of his personality

One day he’s bragging about an achievement. The next he's lashing out at the media and other perceived enemies or thanking his supporters for providing another capacity crowd at a rally. They all fit a pattern in which Trump’s social media posts are often about himself.
His supporters love what they see as unfiltered access to their candidate’s thoughts and emotions. But this sometimes left Trump's campaign slow to address attacks leveled by the Clinton campaign, or go on the offensive itself. After the first debate, Trump posted frequently about how he won the debate, pointing to online surveys that agreed with him even though random sampling polls showed Clinton the winner. Clinton took her victory lap as well, but her campaign quickly pivoted to focus on topics raised during the debate.

Posts about polls or debate performance

Clinton uses social media as an extension of the campaign

Clinton uses social media less as a personal platform than a tightly focused messaging machine for her candidacy and policies. While Trump writes many of his own tweets, Clinton’s accounts are largely handled by staff members. The most notable example was the consistency with which the campaign posted links for supporters to register to vote. They did this 39 times last week, compared to one time for the Trump campaign.

Posts about registering to vote

Clinton’s attacks are laser focused

Clinton made a point during the first debate about how prepared she was, and it showed in her campaign’s social media response following the debate. After Clinton struck a nerve in the debate by criticizing Trump’s comments about former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, her campaign helped to keep the story alive in the days that followed with a concerted social media campaign highlighting Trump’s treatment of women.

Posts about Alicia Machado or women generally

Clinton is plastering the airwaves with TV ads

Throughout the campaign, Clinton has raised more money than Trump. As of the last Federal Election Commission report, Trump had raised $166 million to Clinton’s $373 million. And that advantage has manifested itself in a massive, consistent advantage in television advertising.

In the week that started Sept. 27, Clinton spent $10 million on television ads, compared to around $6.4 million for Trump, bringing their totals for the cycle up to $131.6 million and $25.7 million. This is actually an improvement for Trump: in the previous week, he didn’t advertise in any battleground states. Trump was on the air in eight states last week, while Clinton was advertising in nine.

General election TV ad spending by electoral vote for the week of Sept. 27
Squares sized by amount of TV ad spending per electoral vote.
New Hampshire4 electoral votesClinton $63,156Trump $135,117 Nevada6 electoral votesClinton $106,120Trump $71,251 Florida29 electoral votesClinton $84,287Trump $83,745 Pennsylvania20 electoral votesClinton $69,257Trump $2,585 Ohio18 electoral votesClinton $53,859Trump $27,024 Iowa6 electoral votesClinton $41,219Trump $36,661 Nebraska1 electoral voteClinton $25,445Trump $0 Colorado9 electoral votesClinton $0Trump $40,830 Arizona11 electoral votesClinton $6,967Trump $0 North Carolina15 electoral votesClinton $58,995Trump $26,840
Nebraska1 electoral voteClinton $25,445Trump $0 Arizona11 electoral votesClinton $6,967Trump $0 North Carolina15 electoral votesClinton $58,995Trump $26,840 New Hampshire4 electoral votesClinton $63,156Trump $135,117 Nevada6 electoral votesClinton $106,120Trump $71,251 Florida29 electoral votesClinton $84,287Trump $83,745 Pennsylvania20 electoral votesClinton $69,257Trump $2,585 Ohio18 electoral votesClinton $53,859Trump $27,024 Iowa6 electoral votesClinton $41,219Trump $36,661 Colorado9 electoral votesClinton $0Trump $40,830
Nebraska1 electoral voteClinton $25,445Trump $0 Arizona11 electoral votesClinton $6,967Trump $0 Florida29 electoral votesClinton $84,287Trump $83,745 Pennsylvania20 electoral votesClinton $69,257Trump $2,585 New Hampshire4 electoral votesClinton $63,156Trump $135,117 Nevada6 electoral votesClinton $106,120Trump $71,251 North Carolina15 electoral votesClinton $58,995Trump $26,840 Ohio18 electoral votesClinton $53,859Trump $27,024 Iowa6 electoral votesClinton $41,219Trump $36,661 Colorado9 electoral votesClinton $0Trump $40,830
Note: Nebraska refers only to its 2nd Congressional District.

Trump prefers free media…but he’s doing a lot less of it

Instead of spending a lot on ads, Trump has effectively used the news media to get out his message. During the primaries he frequently called into news programs or agreed to interviews, getting free time on air that his opponents would never be able to match with paid advertising. Clinton has long been known to be wary of the media, and Trump often attacked her unwillingness to answer reporters’ questions during the summer.

As the campaign enters its final days, however, the Trump campaign has exercised more caution, limiting his appearances to friendlier terrain. The week after the debate, most of Trump’s media appearances were with Fox News programs or local news affiliates. The lone exception was on Friday, when Trump called a reporter from the New York Times to respond to attacks from the Clinton campaign—which probably reflects Trump’s occasional habit of veering from campaign strategy to speak his mind. Clinton twice briefly answered questions aboard her campaign plane from the reporters who travel with her. (Trump flies separately from the reporters who cover his campaign).

The campaign stops, hundreds of social media posts, and millions spent on ads by both campaigns last week show how diligently both campaigns attempted to drive their message post-debate. This week, the campaign has shifted west, as Trump held rallies in Colorado and Arizona. The frequency and urgency of the campaigns’ efforts will only increase as Election Day nears.