The Secret of Winning Elections: Direct Mail

Incorporating many collateral benefits into a pitch for money

Two recent Supreme Court decisions—Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission—have radically changed the American political landscape and put liberals’ knickers in a twist.
• 2010: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it’s okay for corporations and unions to spend whatever they care to on political candidates, parties and political action committees (PACs).

• 2014: McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission opened the cash floodgates, allowing unlimited contributions from individuals to candidates, parties and political committees.

The Net Result of Citizens United in 2012
Republican high-rollers were fleeced out $1 billion betting on Mitt Romney’s candidacy.

The winner and chief fleecer: Karl Rove, who pocketed a reported $45 million in commissions for spending these gazillions of dollars. Other big winners: TV stations nationwide that aired the commercials and the Dom Pérignon Champagne people.

To Win Elections, Look to the Past
In the 2012 election, the competing billions—spent by the Democrats and Republicans—for the most part were spent on TV. Policy wonks watch cable news incessantly. The media and Washington insiders take cable news seriously. They consider themselves to be on the cutting edge of defining the issues ultimately controlling the results.

Average cable news prime time viewership in 2012:
2.071 million: Fox News
913,000: MSNBC
3.654 million total


The total 3.654 million viewers represented a paltry 1 percent of the U.S. population. In terms of swaying public opinion, cable news amounts to squat.

Further, TV is a lousy medium. When commercials come on, half the country is either in the bathroom or at the refrigerator.

After a lousy day of work—or brooding about being out of work—people watch TV to be entertained. Angry candidates and their surrogates trashing each other is not entertainment.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • wash Phillips

    Denny, a question about mailings used in both Obama campaigns.

    How much direct mail was used by the winner? I don’t know. But I seem to recall large pieces during the first Obama campaign. Maybe your point about the efficacy of direct mail IS demonstrated by the Democrats in both presidential elections (despite both parties’ largess with TV). What do you think?

  • Jay Rosenberg

    Better, cheaper, and called "digital direct mail" are geo-, voter- and personalty-type-specific delivered ads and banners. We are doing this now for a candidate from California. If you have voter names and addresses you are all set, and it costs less. You know those shoe ads that follow you around after you visit an e-commerce shoe site. We do the same with the political issues most important to an individual voter… healthcare and social security for the seniors, for example. We think it’s dynamite and the surgical timing of delivery is awesome.