News

Political mailers pour in

Mail boxes all in a row in rural California. (Photo: Ant Clausen)

More and more of them are flooding your mailbox.  They are usually bright, colorful, and nonsensical.

Political mailers.  What else?  It’s the season, after all.

Even in the age of texting and Twitter, old-fashioned paper still has its charm for campaign strategists, especially in down-ballot races where a shotgun approach is not useful. High-end mailers aren’t that new: Increasingly sophisticated mass mailing in politics goes back at least as far as George S. McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign.

One Sacramento voter estimated that 30 percent of his mailbox items were from political campaigns from  May 1 through Memorial Day, or about 40 individual pieces of mail.

Campaign managers know that snail mail allows a much more precise aim at your target audience – the voters you most want to reach, and convince.

A broadcast television spot reaches thousands of voters, of course, but along with all the left-wing Democrats you’re after, you’re going to wind up pleading your case to Republican Trump supporters who won’t vote for your candidate no matter what. A cable TV ad is far more targeted — which is one reason more and more campaigns are turning to them, even in an era of vast social media.

But by sophisticated use of available demographic data, strategists can hit the voters they most want to reach by paper mail. In addition, Baby Boomers and seniors are most receptive to mailed information, and they often vote in relatively higher numbers than other age groups. Bingo.

The use of mailers varies widely from campaign to campaign. One veteran consultant said of $300,000 budgeted for an Assembly race, perhaps two-thirds typically would go to mail and voter contact, with some going to Facebook and other social media.

One Sacramento voter estimated that 30 percent of his mailbox items were from political campaigns from  May 1 through Memorial Day, or about 40 individual pieces of mail. The pace accelerates as Election Day gets closer. Since Tuesday, he’s received eight more, mostly from local campaigns. On the average, he’s getting about three a day.

One irony: People increasingly are voting absentee, which means the mailers may arrive after their ballots have been cast.

The U. S. Postal Service, with a vested interest in boosting mail volume, will even make a consultant available to help campaigns make the most effective use of direct mail.  “Deliver the Win,” says the USPS.

Designing an effective mailed piece is tricky.

Voters don’t have much time to delve into political science.  If the campaign leaves the distracted, busy voter with a vaguely favorable attitude toward the candidate or cause that the voter is likely to carry over to the actual marking of the ballot, it’s champagne for everyone.

(Nonetheless, online do-it-yourself services can make creating a homemade candidate piece as simple as designing an invitation to a birthday party. How effective the piece is depends on the skill of the designer.)

Wise strategists include the campaign website and other social media links in that old-fashioned printed piece, homemade or not.

The U. S. Postal Service, with a vested interest in boosting mail volume, will even make a consultant available to help campaigns make the most effective use of direct mail.  “Deliver the Win,” says the USPS.

A mailer is really an example of Marketing 101. There are rules.

Mailer recipients must be made to believe that the candidate can single-handedly do great things, no matter how far removed from reality the claim may be.

You have to have an attention-grabbing headline, or picture.  You follow up with another headline or headlines, along with pictures, about the manifest wonderfulness of your candidate – the candidate is happily married; the candidate has children; the candidate has deep roots in the community; see, the candidate is endorsed by all these prominent elected officials; the candidate is going to clean up the mess made by … elected officials. (As is traditional, the main theme of this season’s mailers is “Everything is a Mess, and You Need Me to Clean It Up.”)

Here’s part of a mailer on behalf of Marshall Tuck, campaigning for State Superintendent of Public Instruction:

“Marshall Tuck is a progressive leader fighting for the kind of change that our struggling education system desperately needs to help our kids.”  God help those adorable youngsters pictured in the mailer unless Tuck wins.

In her mailer, Democrat Judy Appel, running for the Assembly in an East San Francisco Bay district, tells us:

“I’m running for State Assembly because I believe in fixing things.”

Mailer recipients must be made to believe that the candidate can single-handedly do great things, no matter how far removed from reality the claim may be.  Here’s what a mailer says on behalf of East Bay Democrat Buffy Wicks, also running for the Assembly:

“As your Assemblywoman, Buffy Wicks will:

“Enact the country’s strongest, broadest assault weapons ban.”

No, she won’t.

If elected, brand-new lawmaker Wicks might be part of a 120-member Legislature that passes the country’s strongest, broadest assault weapons ban, but she’s not going to “enact” it all by herself, as the mailer claims.  Wicks is also not going to single-handedly “ensure that newly convicted felons relinquish their firearms.” Other new lawmakers will find themselves in the same boat.

Campaign managers roll their eyes and suppress scornful laughter over all this naïve concern over political purity.

But after all, she and other contenders can’t campaign on an accurate theme of “If elected, I’ll be just one of more than 100 legislators, so don’t expect miracles.” Honest, but not vote-getting.

Among Democrats, the hottest “get” for endorsements right now is U. S. Sen. Kamala Harris.  She’s all over the place. So are pictures of the candidate with Barack Obama.

There may be a campaign mailers on behalf of Republicans in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and other immediate Bay Areas communities, but if so, they would be eligible for prompt shipment to the Smithsonian.  Republican candidates concentrate their resources where they have realistic chances – parts of the Central Valley and Southern California.

Campaign managers roll their eyes and suppress scornful laughter over all this naïve concern over political purity.

“Of course we make ludicrous claims about what our candidate is going to do in city hall, or Sacramento, or Washington,” they chorus.  “What do you think this is?A graduate course in political science? A festival of nuance?”

They’re right, of course.  Successful campaign managers know you have to use broad, attention-getting strokes on your mailers if you want to win.

So relax. It will all be over Tuesday.

Then it starts right up again for November.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: