Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2003 / 7 Shevat, 5763
Political e-mailing comes of age
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | One of the most interesting lessons to emerge from the midterm elections is the power of massive e-mailing to effect outcomes in closely fought elections. In the first experiment of its kind, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) used e-mailing to win his closely contested race for reelection. The Huckabee experience should serve as a model for campaigns in the future.
The effectiveness of e-mailing in Huckabee's Arkansas race serves as a preliminary indication of the future transformation of politics from television to the Internet.
Locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Jimmie Lou Fisher, Huckabee found himself stuck at 50 percent of the vote, unable to budge higher as Election Day loomed. Pollster John Zogby, testing the waters three weeks before Election Day, found Huckabee leading Fisher by 50 to 40 percent, and there the race stayed for three weeks. In Arkansas, the undecided vote usually goes against the incumbent (in this case all of it did, in fact, go to Fisher), so Huckabee took no comfort from his so-called lead.
While both candidates were spending heavily on television and Fisher was pounding away with the usual assortment of negative ads, the race seemed in status.
Underscoring Huckabee's concern was the impending demise of Arkansas Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R), who was faring badly in his ultimately unsuccessful bid for reelection. Whatever Republican trend seemed to be gripping America, it had left Bill Clinton's native state behind.
On the Thursday before the Tuesday Election Day, Huckabee contracted with Vote.com (my firm) to do a statewide e-mailing to a list of 545,000 people in Arkansas. Since Arkansas only has 2 million people, the e-mailing promised to blanket the state, reaching most of the Internet households.
The e-mailing featured a very detailed description of Huckabee's record as governor, broken down into categories like "crime," "education" and "family issues" for easy access by voters. The message, attractively presented, was pasted into the body of the e-mail itself to save voters from having to download an attachment.
The letter about Huckabee's record was signed by former Arkansas Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt (R) to give the message added credibility. The text of the e-mail was much longer - five pages - than would have been possible in either a TV or a radio ad, but gave the voter the option of browsing through to find the categories that most interested him.
The effect of the e-mailing was electric. Huckabee said afterward that "it might well have made the difference" in the election. Sent out between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Thursday, the mailing sent a jolt through the tracking polling. Huckabee's vote share jumped to 53 percent while Fisher's fell to 37 percent. A few days later, Zogby confirmed Huckabee's 53 percent vote share in his published polls, and on Election Day the governor was reelected by a 53-47 margin.
While other campaigns have used e-mail, this is the first massive, statewide use of it to reach virtually all Internet households in a state.
The incredibly positive effect of the e-mailing campaign portends great changes in American politics. With network television viewing dropping further every year, political advertising over the tube is having less impact with each passing cycle.
Now, to hammer home an issue, political advertisers have, typically, to run more than 1500 Gross Rating Points to achieve what 500 points did 10 years ago.
E-mailing is the new front of political campaigning. It is also the ultimate answer to campaign finance reform. By lowering the cost of campaigning, massive e-mailing can - and will - reduce the price of running for office as the law of diminishing returns undermines the future of television advertising.
How does one use the Internet? How to stop voters from just deleting the messages?
What information works best online? These are all the questions political consultants
and candidates will ponder in the future. But the stage was set in 2002 by Mike
Huckabee of Arkansas.
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