Published Nov 21, 2018

By Rory McShane

For years robocalls have been the bane of a voter’s existence and, for years, I’ve told candidates and campaigns the same thing about robocalls. While they’re effective to disseminate information and encourage behavior among people who already agree with you, they’ll never win a single vote.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain to a candidate or campaign manager that a robocall about a candidate’s biography or issue positions is the equivalent of lighting money on fire. Maybe even worse because lighting money on fire doesn’t lose you any votes.

What robocalls were effective for at one point was activating voters who already agreed with you. Disseminating small, quick, bits of information to get a voter to take an action. Now, as fewer and fewer voters have landlines, and pre-election weeks are flooded with robocalls, they’re losing their effectiveness for even that.

In their place, peer-to-peer texting has become a great solution to activate the voters you need. In the 2018 cycle our firm handled P2P texting for the Colorado GOP, and candidates and ballot initiatives in Colorado, Nevada, and Maryland. Here’s what we learned:

GOTV, specifically mail-in ballot and early voting

As the nation and, specifically, the West moves more and more to early voting and vote-by-mail gains wider adoption, P2P should be used to encourage your voters to go vote or turn in their ballot. A competent campaign should have a well-defined and identified supporter universe.

Campaigns should then match supporters to their historical vote method. Are they early voters? Election Day voters? Mail-in voters?

States like Colorado even track which day voters historically turn in their ballots — something campaigns should note. If a voter in your supporter universe passes the day that they historically have turned in their ballot, without turning it in, send them a text reminder.

Turning voters out for events

A text message will never persuade a voter to vote for you, but it can put you in a room with a persuadable voter. There’s nothing more effective a candidate can do than meet a voter face to face. For 10-15 cents per text, texting every persuadable voter in a district, inviting them to a meet and greet to net a couple dozen votes in the final weeks of an election is well worth it.

Encouraging voters to contact the candidate

By the time you hit October, normally sooner, voters are so burnt out on mass media you reach the point of diminishing returns. Most often, especially in small races, the only way to win votes in the final months is direct contact with the candidates.

The problem is that a candidate can spend all evening canvassing to only actually talk to a handful of voters. With several of our legislative races, we texted everyone in our persuadable universe our candidate’s cell phone number, instructing them to call the candidate personally if they had any questions.

Our candidates talked to dozens of voters during the same time it would have taken them to meet a half dozen voters at the doors. Even to the majority of voters who glanced at the text and hit delete, it was a signal that our client was a regular person.

Text messages will never persuade voters. But they can activate and engage voters better than robocalls. As voters disconnect their landlines and hang up on choppy recorded auto dialers, P2P text messages are a tool that every campaign should budget for.

Rory McShane is a media strategist and founder of Las Vegas-based McShane LLC.