As COVID-19 set in, campaigns up and down the ballot had to abruptly cancel in-person events and suspend many other traditional forms of building awareness and getting out the vote. Text messaging, which has been part of campaign communications for years, suddenly became one of the few viable ways to reach voters quickly and on a large scale.
Unlike emails, which can sit unopened in someone’s inbox for days or weeks, text messages are more immediate and are likely to be seen within minutes or hours of being received. The New York Times reports that the response rates to texts are up to 36 times higher than email.
A campaign staffer or volunteer working a phone bank can make a few dozen calls per hour at most. That same person could send up to 1,500 texts per hour, according to campaign texting platform CallHub.
Campaigns can also engage in a back and forth with potential voters, with the entire exchange captured in their voter management systems. This allows campaigns to gain a deeper understanding of which issues voters care about and how to frame future campaign ads and other messages.
“With all of this data available in text format, it allows you to do this analysis,” Adam Meldrum, a GOP data analytics specialist, told the Washington Examiner.
Platforms like CallHub make it easy to analyze messages to identify trends and other useful data points. That data can quickly make its way into speeches and media appearances, which signals to voters that candidates are hearing and addressing their concerns.
The COVID-19 era has also allowed campaigns to use text messaging for purposes other than simply gathering votes and donations. Candidates across the country have utilized their texting platforms to mobilize support for COVID-19 relief organizations, provide information about what’s happening in their districts, and engage volunteers in outreach to seniors and other vulnerable communities.
Politico reported that Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) asked her donors to give to the Salvation Army instead, which yielded more than $200,000 for the relief organization. And Democrat John Hickenlooper, who’s running to unseat Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), utilized his texting program to send 370,000 messages to voters that connected them with coronavirus-related resources.
These actions have short-term effects during the pandemic, but candidates are also hoping voters will remember them when it’s time to vote this fall. The goodwill created during COVID-19, plus the wealth of information collected from text messages, could prove to be a valuable asset going into November.
For now, however, the focus largely remains on helping people navigate COVID-19 and the reopening process across the country. “I don’t think there’s any question but that we’ve got to assume that this is a campaign cycle that will depend more on letter-writing, texting and phone calls than on door-knocking,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) told Politico. “We’ll eventually get to the point where we’re doing campaigning again, but this is about the resources — the human resources — that we have right now to help people.”
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