Google Will Ban Election-Related Ads After the Polls Close on Nov. 3

The tech company is applying its 'sensitive events policy' given that ballots will take longer to count this year

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Google won't allow election-related ads after the polls close on Nov. 3. iStock, Google
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The Nov. 3 election is only weeks away and tech platforms are still tinkering with their policies on taking political ad dollars.

Google told advertisers Friday that it will not allow election-related ads to run on any of its platforms after the polls close nationwide. Google spokesperson Charlotte Smith confirmed the decision to Adweek after Axios first reported the news.

“Given the likelihood of delayed election results this year, when polls close on November 3, we will pause ads referencing the 2020 election, the candidates, or its outcome,” Smith said in a statement. “This is a temporary measure, and we’ll notify advertisers when this policy is lifted.”

In the letter to advertisers, Google said it’s expecting a “substantial increase in election ad submissions” in the coming weeks and told advertisers to expect 48 hours for approvals” without leeway for expedited requests.

Google’s decision applies its “sensitive events” policy after Nov. 3 and said once the policy is in place, “advertisers will not be able to run ads referencing candidates, the election, or its outcome,” since an “unprecedented amount of votes will be counted after election day this year.”

The ban will apply to all ads bought through Google Ads, DV360, YouTube and AdX Authorized Buyer and will expand beyond its traditional political ads classification to include any ads that “reference federal or state elections.” This also includes political fundraising ads. 

Smith said the company told advertisers to expect at least a seven-day stoppage.

Last fall, Google, which allows political ads across its ad network and on YouTube, announced it would limit audience targeting to age, gender and location by postal code. 

Around that same time, many platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin and TikTok all said they would not take political ads on their platform. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said at the time. 

Facebook, which has resisted calls to fact-check and limit targeting for political ads, recently announced a series of changes to how it handles political ads, letting users opt-out of seeing political ads, announcing it won’t accept ads that falsely claim victory and blocking any new ads from being bought and run in the week leading up to Election Day. Critics said the ban on new ads before the election could hurt get-out-the-vote efforts or create confusion when the ban lifts after the election.

Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor and senior researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said Google’s policy “hits all the spots Facebook’s recent announcement missed,” saying it accounts for a contested post-election period and various claims from a variety of groups, not just politicians.

McGregor said she hopes Google will supplement this ads policy by promoting reliable information via search. “As is well-documented, those looking to sow disinformation use data voids to manipulate terms and searches to expose people to misleading content,” she said. “To respond to the almost certain post-election threat of those looking to undermine the sanctity and legitimacy of the election exploiting data voids, Google should—in consort with researchers—monitor those and add those terms to be banned in ads.”

Will Ritter, co-founder of the conservative ad agency Poolhouse, was unimpressed. “I think all political ad bans are BS,” he said, “but I don’t buy many fireworks on the 5th of July.”

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