How can you tell it’s election season? When you can see your mail before it even reaches the mailbox.
You know the show.
An oversized cardstock flyer for a school board candidate opens the lid of the mailbox, flanked by a tri-fold mailer with bold red, white and blue letters that state a candidate for city council is exponentially better than another.
And then there are the glossy half-sheets arguing for and against one proposition that sounds nearly identical to another.
You collect everything and take it straight to the trash can, wondering if there’s a way to save all the innocent trees that unknowingly sacrificed their lives on the altar of democracy.
So how do you stop campaign mail? There are several ways to do this, but only one is guaranteed to work with most campaigns. And you’ll probably have to wait until the next election season to do it in time to make a difference.
People may not realize it, but when they register to vote, they are also choosing to receive campaign mailings. Names, addresses, and the like are part of a county’s registered voter database, which is a public record.
“There are vendors all over the country that keep track of all of this data, and then the campaigns use that data,” said Peter Rangone, senior campaign adviser to Rick Caruso for mayor of Los Angeles. The appeal of direct mail is that it allows specific targeting of individuals. Television reaches more people, but direct mail is more likely to reach the exact voter a campaign wants to influence.
Data providers also keep track of more than names, addresses and political affiliations. Among other things, they check whether a person votes by mail or in person, returns an early ballot or votes on Election Day, is a regular or irregular voter. Campaigns then organize exactly the demographic group they are trying to reach.
“We just provide the data and they have to provide the magic,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of business development for Political Data Intelligence (PDI), a company that sells California contact information to campaigns and others. “We don’t do anything that falls under the banner of the council.” (Full disclosure: PDI provides the lists the Los Angeles Times uses to conduct polls.)
Although direct mail accounts for a smaller proportion of campaign spending these days, the total dollar amount spent on mail hasn’t decreased, Mitchell said. “Campaign budgets have increased,” he said.
It’s possible a direct mail effort could be rushed by a smaller campaign — Mitchell recalled a State Senate campaign he worked on that put together an emergency mailing of 30,000 pieces in less than two days in response to a last-minute attack announcement — but a typical sender typically takes five to seven days to go from PDF to printer to direct mail house to post office, he said. Lists can be ordered in advance or on the fly.
Over the past 10 years, “California consultants have become much more sophisticated at targeting mail using the time factor,” Mitchell said, referring to the data point about when people actually vote, given how increase in voting by mail and early voting. A decade ago, it was a “rare case” of a campaign sending a direct mail earlier to early voters and later to those who vote on Election Day. “Now that’s standard practice,” he said.
But Elisabeth Schendel, a 30-year-old Sacramento resident who estimates she and her roommate received five to eight campaign letters a day until recently, thinks campaigns still don’t really know how to reach people like her.
“We are millennials,” she told The Times. “We don’t really absorb the information that comes in the mail.”
She says she gets her election information through social media and her own ‘general curiosity’: Schendel and her roommate do their own research online before filling out their ballots each election day, rather than checking the flyers that appear in the mailbox. .
“It’s an overwhelming amount of mail, and with it all coming in at once, I’m less likely to look at it,” she said.
But Rob Stutzman, a Sacramento-based Republican political consultant, disagrees with people who say they throw away campaign mail and pay no attention to campaign ads on TV. People like him measure the success of the campaign by the movement in the polls or in the results on Election Day. They also use focus groups.
Stutzman said in a phone interview that he had seen many such groups where the first comments out of people’s mouths were that they paid no attention to TV commercials and immediately threw away all the mailings from the country. “Then 20 minutes later they’re all describing why they don’t like Candidate X because of exactly what was said in the negative ads,” he said. “It penetrates.”
“What mail can do that other media can’t is be addressable to a person,” he said. “It’s the most targeted campaign method and that’s why it’s still part of the toolkit. … It’s a tactile experience. It’s more permanent than an interaction on a screen.
So how do you keep campaign mail from cluttering up your mailbox?
Some might think the post might help.
E-mail. “U.S. Mail serves as a safe, efficient, and effective way for citizens and campaigns to participate in the electoral process.”
It’s very patriotic, but are they also determined to not deliver political and campaign mail? No.
“If a customer receives spam marketing email in their mailbox, they can contact the business(es) and request that their name be removed from mailing lists, request to be added to a ‘Do Not Send’ list through the DMA, or just throw it away,” Garvins said.
The “do not send” list is more accurately called DMAchoice, a tool offered by the Assn. of National Advertisers, which in 2018 purchased Data & Marketing Assn., formerly Direct Marketing Assn. (the AMD). The ANA does not provide mailing list names, but its members include “many leaders in the direct marketing community,” according to its website, and DMAchoice is a way to communicate preferences to that community.
One problem: DMAchoice is just a way to cut the bulk mail that companies send to potential customers. If someone is an established customer or donor, they have opened the door to direct contact with that company or fundraising efforts, and DMAchoice will not help.
But political mail falls into a different category, because it’s not exactly aimed at your business. The campaigns want your vote.
There is a way that is mutually beneficial both for campaigns and for those who want to break out of the campaign-communications cycle, said Doug Herman, senior campaign strategist for Karen Bass for mayor of Los Angeles.
“It’s voting and voting early,” so the vote is recorded and data tampers can remove your name from the list, Herman said.
It is not in a campaign’s best interest to spend money contacting people who have already voted, especially if a candidate’s war chest is running low.
But one problem with relying on your vote to reduce your direct campaign mail is that there’s always a lag between when a ballot is cast and when a county’s voters list is put out. up to date.
California’s 58 counties all have different levels of effectiveness when it comes to these updates, experts said, giving props to Los Angeles and Orange counties for their quick work. So there may be a short delay between when a county updates its voters list and when a mailing list provider integrates that update.
Additionally, because assembling and delivering physical mail is a time-consuming process, a mailer can go into production days or weeks before someone votes. Then there’s time in the mail, which varies depending on geography and the quirks of US Postal Service practices. Thus, voters could receive a letter in the days following the vote.
Still, people who want to vote on Election Day can have their names removed from some campaigns’ lists simply by asking. For example, someone who wants to get off the Caruso mayor’s campaign mailing list just has to ask, according to senior adviser Pete Ragone.
“We remove people from the mailing list all the time if they ask for it,” Ragone said. “We work very hard to listen to people,” whether they call, email or even send a letter saying they don’t want any more campaign mail. (Contact details can usually be found on the campaign website.)
But, he added, “That doesn’t mean we’re perfect.”
Los Angeles Times