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Mobile-ize Your Political Campaign

Campaigns are continually looking for new ways to engage supporters and reach voters. In 2015, mobile data tracking firm Infomate’s International Smartphone Mobility Report found that the average American spends 26 minutes a day texting as opposed to six minutes a day on voice calls. The voter or volunteer you are trying to reach might not pick up the phone, but they will read and respond to a text. Bulk or mass text messaging has been around for over a decade, but it wasn’t until the 2016 election cycle that we started to see it used most effectively and creatively.

The Beginning

Back in 2008, the Obama Campaign used text messaging to announce at the DNCC who their Vice President pick would be. They asked people to text a keyword to their short code (6 digit #) to sign-up to be one of the first to hear that Joe Biden would be the Vice Presidential nominee.  It was an incredibly smart way to grow their mobile list, unfortunately, they didn’t really utilize that list as much during the remainder of the campaign. It should have been integrated into the innovative campaign tactics the Obama Campaign implemented, but it became a bit of an afterthought.

The 2016 Election

This last Presidential Campaign cycle campaigns were using both Broadcast SMS and the newest kid on the block, Peer-to-Peer texting to engage and reach out to their supporters, donors and voters. This was also the first time a campaign was able to monetize text messaging for fundraising purposes using one-click donate tools.

  • During the primary, Ted Cruz used SMS campaigns to collect donations, which saw about 80% of donors complete text contributions with “one-click” compared to a mere 30% completion while filling out credit card forms.
  • Hillary’s Campaign built “Texts from Hillary” to send fact checks and get in front of breaking news moments, but they also had fun with MMS, by sending gifs and memes. They engaged supporters at the right moments and allowed state organizers to reach out to targeted subscribers when volunteer opportunities or event in their areas emerged.
  • The Bernie Campaign pioneered the use of peer-to-peer SMS via Hustle to contact voters and increase voter turnout in key primary elections.

It’s important to think about your specific need and determine the appropriate mobile tool/platform to use based on the circumstances. Oftentimes, it is best to use both a peer-to-peer and a broadcast mobile platform.


Campaigns are realizing that a mobile program is essential to running a strong field, communications and fundraising program. Pretty much every competitive Congressional, Senate and Gubernatorial race in 2018 has been using peer-to-peer text messaging to help with their voter outreach for IDing and GOTV. The problem is that they haven’t quite caught up to the strategy of using both broadcast SMS (i.e. Mobile Commons, Revere Suite) and peer-to-peer SMS tools (i.e. Relay, Hustle) together.

Hillary’s 2016 campaign fully utilized their broadcast mobile program for general cultivation, fundraising and field organizing, while using peer-to-peer for voter contacts. What I’d love to see in 2019 and 2020 is for smaller campaigns to do this as well. There are multiple reasons why:

  • Cost:

    Campaigns are paying a premium to contact supporters and volunteers using peer-to-peer tools without an opt-in. They could easily get an opt-in from these audiences and pay 1 cent per message each month vs. 30 cents per contact each month. Sending 100k messages (4 SMS x 20,000 contacts) for peer-to-peer would be approximately $6,000, and that same number of messages would cost $2,000 using a broadcast tool.

  • Voter Turnout and Warm vs. Cold Texting:

    Cold texting (peer-to-peer) is when you don’t have an opt-in, while warm texting (broadcast) is when you do have an opt-in and have developed a relationship. A study of 2016 voter turnout found that sending a warm SMS for GOTV doubled the impact on voter turnout. is doing a great job running GOTV for their 2 million+ broadcast SMS list, in addition to running peer-to-peer campaigns that target underrepresented and unlikely voters.

  • Capacity and Functionality:

    When you are on the campaign trail sometimes you have limited staff. Instead of having a person press send on every message to recruit 500 volunteers. Press send once and have that message go out in seconds using a broadcast tool, and you can set up threaded logic based messages that provide different answers and information depending on what the recipient says (i.e. yes or no).

Peer-to-peer is fantastic for voter contact and acquisition and there are some other really cool ways that organizations are using their peer-to-peer programs. For instance, PACs and c4 organizations like Rapid Resist used peer-to-peer texting for candidate recruitment in 2017 and early 2018. They targeted frequent Democrat voters in red and purple states and asked over text if they’d ever considered running for office. If they said yes, they connected the voter to a training online or in their area for running for office.

I hope to see more of that in 2019 and 2020 as well.

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