US elections: Obama, Romney reliant on old-fashioned mail
WASHINGTON: The modern political campaign has fully embraced Twitter, Facebook and other social media to reach voters, but President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are still spending massive sums on a more traditional form of communication: snail mail.
The two presidential campaigns have spent nearly twice as much on old-fashioned fliers, get-out-the-vote cards and other forms of direct mail as they have on Internet advertising, according to disclosure data and campaign aides. The hope is to appeal to millions of baby boomers and retirees, who may prefer the familiarity of the US Mail to pop-up ads, YouTube videos and other flashy media.
The only cost that outstrips mail is broadcast advertising, which is notoriously expensive and has been washing over swing states for months.
Direct mail is especially crucial for Romney, whose supporters skew older than Obama’s. Romney and the Republican National Committee have spent more than $100 million on mail costs, compared with about $70 million for Obama and the Democrats.
One typical Romney mailing to seniors in Florida pledges to “preserve and strengthen Medicare” with “no change in benefits for those in or near retirement.” It features an elderly couple and an older woman along with a picture of the Republican candidate and his wife, Ann.
”Florida Seniors CAN’T TRUST President Obama,” the brochure reads above a picture of the president looking rather grim. It continues in capital red letters: “BARACK OBAMA HAS FAILED OUR SENIORS.”
Richard Beeson, the Romney campaign’s political director, said that direct mail is a central part of the campaign’s outreach approach, which also includes digital strategies, phone canvassing and other methods aimed at engaging supporters.
”We are believers in voter contact,” Beeson said. “There’s a number of different ways to talk to voters, and the mail is one very effective way.”
The use of mass direct mail in politics stretches back at least as far as George S. McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, which deployed tactics perfected by the mail-order industry. The Religious Right movement of the 1980s married sophisticated voter lists with the reach of the US Postal Service to become a potent political force.
Mailings are used to attack opponents, make policy promises, solicit donations and help supporters register to vote.
”The power of it is still huge because it’s reaching that age group that includes baby boomers, who are still largely more comfortable with direct mail than other, newer forms of communication,” said Paul Bobnak, research director for DirectMarketingIQ, a Philadelphia-based target marketing firm that tracks campaign mailings. “It is still a huge workhorse for political fundraising and messaging.”
In 2008, more than half the voters in the presidential race were 45 or older, according to exit polls. Those 65 or older went for Republican John McCain by 53 per cent to 45 per cent, while Obama ran about even with McCain among voters aged 45 to 64, the data show.
For many congressional candidates, trade unions and interest groups, direct mail offers a particularly effective, and inexpensive, way to reach supporters.
Last week, the AFL-CIO labor confederation sent out 150,000 mailers to its Ohio members attacking Romney and GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel; the same households later received robocalls repeating the messages.
”Our testing shows that union members spend more time reading and recall more info from our mail programme than just general mail from campaigns,” said Ohio AFL-CIO spokesman Mike Gillis.
By arrangement with the Washington Post/Bloomberg News Service