Both sides’ spending on significantly cheaper online and social media advertising is understood to be a fraction of these amounts, likely in the realm of 20 to 30 per cent of overall ad budgets.
Digital expenditure will eventually eclipse broadcast, said one Labor operative, but that point is still a while away.
“TV remains a great way of communicating to people who may not be paying attention,” they said.
Another source familiar with the Labor campaign said it felt “old fashioned” compared to the party’s 2016 efforts, with a renewed emphasis on effective TV ads.
Glenn Kefford, a political scientist at Macquarie University, said digital campaigning could not be understood in isolation.
“I think we need to move away from the idea that digital is completely transforming electoral politics and instead view it as one tool amongst many that the parties use,” Dr Kefford said.
A Liberal source said campaign headquarters now had a large team dedicated to the digital effort but that reaching people online remains just one weapon in the arsenal, with a lot of importance placed on time-honoured campaigning methods, including doorknocking.
Figures in both parties are also said to be nervous about the impending introduction of stronger transparency measures on Facebook, a key platform of the digital campaign.
From June, Australia will have access to Facebook’s detailed ad library, showing which demographics have been micro-targeted and how much money was invested. The library could capture content published from April onwards, meaning all campaign material will be made available for scrutiny.
The ongoing emphasis on the old ways has not stopped the Liberal Party significantly improving its digital abilities, with strategists in both parties agreeing that Labor’s online dominance at the last election has been more or less matched this time.
“The data the party has is a lot better, the creative resources are better and there is a leader that is prepared to go negative,” a Liberal source said.
Labor is also putting increased resources into digital content. The material both parties are producing for social media reflects overarching campaign messages while also being responsive to campaign twists and turns.
It is targeted at key demographics and electorates, backed by voter data held by the parties and dollars to boost the audience it reaches.
Analysis of material on Facebook shows the parties are deploying hundreds of unique ads and boosted posts for a variety of purposes, including calling for volunteers and attacking opponents.
On Tuesday, the Liberal Party page was running 230 ads, with another 37 running from Mr Morrison’s page, 13 from the Nationals and many more from the pages of individual candidates.
The ads are tailored for key electorates, emphasising economic and budget management and combating Labor’s messages on school and hospital funding.
The Labor Party page was running 200 ads with another 21 operating from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s page.
Many of the ads are localised versions of national campaign templates about economic fairness and funding of services.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Nigel Gladstone is The Sydney Morning Herald’s data journalist.