7 in 10 Americans Don’t Want Political Campaigns Microtargeting Them

Knight Foundation-Gallup poll shows consensus across party lines

Eighty-one percent of respondents said ads featuring an incorrect election date should be banned outright. Getty Images
Headshot of Scott Nover

A new poll from the Knight Foundation and Gallup shows Americans are pretty united on one thing in politics: their aversion to microtargeted ads.

According to the survey, released this morning, 7 in 10 U.S. citizens don’t want political campaigns to be able to microtarget them through digital ads. At a time when the country is starkly divided along partisan lines, the broad consensus was shared almost equally by Democrats (69%), Republicans (75%) and independents (72%).

Even more Americans believe social media platforms should ban misleading or false ads, the survey found. Eighty-one percent of respondents said ads featuring an incorrect election date should be banned outright, while 62% said the same about “ads that say a politician voted for a policy they didn’t actually vote for.”

John Sands, the director of learning and impact at the Knight Foundation, said in an interview that he was optimistic about the results.

“In an era when it seems like no one can agree on anything, I think it’s very strange—or maybe heartening—to find such broad bipartisan agreement on something as integral to our democratic process as this,” Sands said.

The survey results come at a time when social media and tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are engaged in, and are the subject of, discussions over their roles in the upcoming 2020 elections and the rules governing political ads on their platforms. 

Facebook has resisted calls to limit or fact-check political ads, but other tech companies have recently changed their policies. In November, Google amended its political ads policy so users could only be targeted based on age, gender and location by postal code. A month earlier, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the company would ban political ads outright, a step that social video platform TikTok also took.

The Knight-Gallup poll compared its results against the policies of Facebook, Google and Twitter to show public opinion on what those companies allow. Twenty percent of respondents said “no campaign ads should be shown on any websites at all,” reflecting Twitter’s own internal policy, and one in five said they supported allowing campaigns access to “limited, broad details about internet users, such as their gender, age or zip code” like Google permits. Just 7% said “any information should be made available for a campaign’s use,” which is what Facebook policy on political ads allows.

Sands the survey findings should be considered in the larger context of declining trust in institutions.

“There are public institutions that used to hold all the power, then there were journalism institutions that were gatekeepers and guardians of truth and facts, and now that assumption has been totally decentralized in the age of the platform,” Sands said. “If anything, the rise of platforms certainly hasn’t helped the phenomenon—it hasn’t reversed the trend.”

@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.