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Special Political Update – Midterms Run-up

Article by John Landsman

We’re now only eight weeks from Midterm elections which are arguably the most consequential and supercharged in memory. Unless you’ve been in a cryogenic state for the past twenty months, that hyperbole needs no explanation.

Parties and pols make extensive use of the email channel.  It’s fast, flexible, cheap and — put to its most common use — reliably drives fund-raising.   With access to appropriate data, political mailers can segment, target and personalize based on voter location and behavior.  Political email’s only major downside?  Its spam rates are often grossly elevated.  Why?  Because political email is exempted from CAN-SPAM regulations, with the consequence that many political emailers don’t observe subscriber opt-in and other email marketing best practices relating to audience, contact and message optimization.

Political organizations and candidates email robustly on both sides of the aisle.  Updating our previous (March 2018) analysis, we took another look at this activity for the thirty-day period ending September 11th.   Activity and performance metrics vary widely.

For the Democrats

We again looked at domains of three entities representing the national party:

  • The Democratic National Committee (Democrats.org)
  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC.org)
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC.org)

The table below provides activity and performance data for each.  All three have large overall email audiences; the two larger of those at or about 3-5 times the size of the smallest.  All three are mailing heavily, especially the DCCC, which supports congressional candidates across the nation, in races where the stakes are highest this year.  Inbox performance is problematic, but read rates are above average to moderate, and generally improved from our look last March.

As reflected in their subject lines, mailing themes are issues-based: (e.g., “SIGN ON:  Stop Kavanaugh;” “The GOP is going after people with pre-existing conditions”), and urgently stated (e.g., “BEGGING you, Keith;” “Our democracy hangs in the balance;” “Special interest cash is POURING in;” “Trump PANICKING”).  As is customary, all body content includes strong fund-raising appeals.  “Proxy” senders abound; e.g., Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Adam Schiff, James Carville (his subject line: “Trump SCREWED”), Hillary Clinton, John Lewis, John Kerry.

Domain Projected
Panel Reach
Campaigns
(Last 30 Days)
Inbox % Read %
Democrats.org 10.6M 380 85.10% 16.70%
DCCC.org 19.9M 1,290 64.80% 11.60%
DSCC.org 3.2M 421 82.30% 16.60%

For the Republicans

We looked at six domains representing four key entities:

  • Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (Victory.donaldtrump.com/Team.donaldtrump.com)
  • The Republican National Committee (mchq.com/Action.gop.com)
  • The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC.org)
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCCvictory.com)

Per the table below, and as a whole, these domains show much smaller audiences than their Democratic counterparts’, and have been deploying far fewer period campaigns.  Inbox performance is mixed:  the first three perform similarly to the Democrats’ domains, while the last three are very weak.  One of them drives only 12% of its emails to its audience’s inboxes.  Another only about 34%.  With the exception of those two domains, the others are driving very respectable read rates, significantly higher than their rivals’.   One of Trump’s domains produces a period read rate exceeding 20%.

Trump’s and Republican email subject lines run towards standard red-meat issues (e.g., “The open borders mob;” “WEEK 83:  Renegotiating trade deals;” “Do you stand for the national anthem?”); money (e.g., from Eric Trump, “My dad needs your help”); clearing Trump-swag (e.g., “40% off EVERYTHING.”), or announcing special events (e.g., RSVP: President Trump in Billings, MT”).  Campaigns are frequently deployed from “proxy” senders; e.g., Mike Pence; Melania Trump; Lara Trump, a daughter-in-law).

Domain Projected Panel Reach Campaigns
(Last 30 Days)
Inbox % Read %
Victory.donaldtrump.com 6.7M 49 78.0% 20.2%
Team.donaldtrump.com 3.7M 25 74.9% 16.9%
Campaigns.mchq.com 6.3M 27 78.4% 19.5%
Action.gop.com 2.3M 37 12.1% 2.9%
NRSC.org 1.9M 62 34.3% 10.0%
NRCCvictory.com 1.3M 63 65.7% 16.7%

Two High-Visibility Races

Email activity also supports the numerous Congressional and Senate races across the nation.  We analyzed activity from two prominent, Senate contests:

  • In Texas: Senate race between Republican Incumbent Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke
    • Background: Cruz has served one term in the Senate, and he ran in the 2016 Presidential Primaries, dropping out on May 3rd.  O’Rourke has served one term in the House.  Cruz is currently outpolling O’Rourke by only 3-4 points, a statistical tie (within the margin of error).
    • Both candidates have similarly sized email audiences, but O’Rourke’s shows triple Cruz’s 30-day campaign activity level, producing almost four-times Cruz’s deliverability and three times Cruz’s read rates.
    • Subject lines show that Cruz is leveraging his already well-developed brand image: (“Consistent, Conservative, Cruz!). O’Rourke is pushing his status as an electable, come-from-behind underdog: (“within single digits”). 
Domain Projected
Panel Reach
Campaigns
(Last 30 Days)
Inbox % Read %
Tedcruz.org 1.3M 42 27.80% 5.61%
Betofortexas.com 1.6M 128 79.90% 19.00%
  • In Ohio: Senate race between Democratic Incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican Jim Renacci
    • Background: Brown has served two terms in the Senate, and before that seven terms in the House. Renacci has served four terms in the House.  Brown has pulled strongly ahead in the polling, and currently leads Renacci by by a margin of more than ten points.
    • Brown’s email footprint is enormous in relation to his challenger’s, by a factor of almost ten. His inbox performance is weak, but he produces slightly above-average read-rates.  Renacci appears to be only barely leveraging email, and 80% of even that messaging is going to spam.  Nevertheless, his read rates are still slightly better than Brown’s.
    • Brown’s subject line messaging is (per the party playbook) anti-Trump (“The President doesn’t want your contribution tripled”). Renacci sarcastically tweaks Brown’s confidence (“Sherrod Brown: ‘I’m Optimistic’”). 
Domain Projected
Panel Reach
Campaigns
(Last 30 Days)
Inbox % Read %
Sherrodbrown.com 1.3M 103 59.50% 13.40%
Jimrenacci.com 154K 7 20.30% 15.10%