Analyzing Political Campaign Mail

The November 2020 election was a record-breaking event in many ways.

The election had the highest voter turnout in modern history, with more than 159 million Americans casting votes, according to CNBC. It was also the most expensive election in history, with total spending calculated to be a record-setting $14 billion according to a CNBC article. Of that, with approximately $6.6 billion was for Presidential candidates and $7 billion for Congressional candidates.

The election was a record-breaker for me in terms of how much political campaign mail I received. In the days leading up to the November 3, 2020 election, I received 167 pieces of mail from political campaigns and lobbying organizations – a dramatic increase like I have never seen before.

In this post, I am going to analyze the nearly 5 pounds (2.2 kg) of political campaign mail that I received, to see what can be learned from it – if anything.

Breaking it Down

Out of the 167 pieces of political mail, here is how they were broken down:

This chart shows the number of pieces of campaign mail I received, sorted by the level of government. 47 pieces were about candidates in the Presidential, Senate, or Congressional Representative elections. 106 pieces of mail were about State level elections, including State Senator and State Representative. Only 3 pieces were about County-level candidates, and no mail was received for City elections, even though Phoenix had three candidates running for Mayor and two candidates running for City Council in my district. I also received 11 pieces of mail about local Propositions (not a specific candidate), or pieces about an overall party which did not support one candidate specifically.

I have not donated to or volunteered for any political campaigns. I have never given my address or contacted these organizations in any way. While I have received campaign flyers in previous years, the amount of bulk rate, direct mail flyers I have received in 2020 is absolutely out of control.

What was the sentiment of these campaign mailers?

Regarding sentiment, I considered “For” to be a positive, supportive message of a candidate or issue, and “Against” to be a message that encouraged the recipient to NOT vote for a candidate.

The overall result was 93 positive messages (56%) and 74 negative messages (44%).

Why Political Mailers Upset Me

There are two types of messages used in political mailings: positive and negative. Positive ads voice support for a candidate, while negative ads attempt to discourage voters from supporting the other candidate(s).

Advertisements have become significantly more negative over time
Although only 10% of advertisements aired in the 1960 campaign were negative, in the 2012 campaign only 14.3% of aired ads were positive.

Example of a positive campaign mailer:
Hi, My name is (insert name). I support the following issues: (Issue A, Issue B, etc.). If these issues are important to you, please vote for me.

These type of mailers are the type I like to see. They try to rally support for a candidate by showing what they stand for, without slamming the opposing candidate. 56% of the mailers I received were in this “positive” category.

The other type of messaging is much more negative. These messages show the opposing candidate in a negative light, trying to show how they are wrong for the prospective position. These accounted for 44% of the mailers I received.

The negative messages are extremely hateful. In the 2020 election, the senders of these messages resorted to new lows, such as

  • Using unflattering pictures of opposing candidates
  • Using 50% gradient overlays, or black and white photos
  • Bad Photoshop graphics
  • Using “Angry” colors like red, yellow
  • Statements taken out of context
  • Making outrageous or ridiculous claims (“Candidate X doesn’t care about…”)
  • Attacking the opposing candidate’s character instead of the issue
  • Attempting to discredit the opposing candidate

I do not like receiving such hate-filled messages in my mailbox, whether they are truthful or not.

The intent is to use creative elements and design to activate emotional triggers of the voter. They want to incite an emotional response instead of letting you think rationally.

I find it upsetting that political parties and organizations resort to such morally questionable tactics. And I find it upsetting that voters are likely to respond to these flyers exactly as intended, without doing any further research or education.

How do they get my information?

According to ABC 15 News, political parties and the media can legally request the following voter information in Arizona:

  • Name
  • Political affiliation
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Birth year
  • Occupation
  • How much you voted in the last four years
  • Whether you are on the early voting list or not

“Matt Roberts with the state’s Secretary of State’s office said political parties, the media and others request it frequently. However, the information cannot be used for commercial purposes and costs more than $500.”

It is easy for political parties to submit a Public Records Request to obtain enough information to send direct-mail flyers to anyone they would like, so long as it is for a non-commercial purpose. This is perfectly legal under Arizona State Law.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website provides 50-state information on access to voter lists. Visit the link to see which voter registration is public and confidential in your state.

How can I protect myself as a voter?

As an American consumer, I am protected from telemarketing calls and unsolicited (“spam”) emails by federal privacy and protection laws. However, there is no choice for me to “Opt Out” of these political campaign mailings.

There is no way for an ordinary citizen, a registered voter, to keep their voter information from being shared with political parties in Arizona. Only Police Officers and participants in the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) – for victims of domestic violence and stalking – can have their voter information kept confidential.

Final Thoughts

I find this absolutely infuriating that these messages can clog my mailbox, and I have no recourse to get them to STOP. Where do you draw the line between campaigning and harassment? I did not consent to receive these campaign flyers. I think they are a huge waste of time and money.

To summarize, my gripes with political mailers includes the following:

  • There are too many of them
  • There is no way to restrict or limit the volume of mail received
  • I did not consent to receive these flyers
  • Printing and mailing tens of thousands of flyers is wasteful
  • Flyers are being used to “smear” opposing candidates with bad/misleading graphics and design
  • I feel that flyers are ineffective at changing voter opinions

I did not look at the massive stack of campaign flyers until after I had mailed in my ballot, as I did not want my opinion to be swayed by these mailers.

While I wish there was something more I could do, I am afraid that I cannot do much besides grumble about it on the Internet.

About the author

Trevor Freeman

Trevor Freeman is a writer, photographer, and maker who loves learning new things. His favorite food is pizza. He received a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management from Grand Canyon University. He lives and works in Phoenix.

You can follow Trevor on Twitter @TrevorFreemanAZ, on Instagram at @arizona.dreamin, and on YouTube: TheRealTrevorland.

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