Email Inboxes and the Iowa Caucus
Most years, Iowa’s top exports are corn, tractors and pork. But on Feb. 1, 2016, the Hawkeye State’s chief export was drama. The Iowa caucus has long been a make-or-break event for presidential candidates. A win in Iowa typically means precious donor money will come rolling in; a loss is often seen as a portend of a campaign’s demise. When the votes were tallied this time around, there was a major upset, a virtual tie and the end of the road for four candidates.
Marketing strategies coincide with the success or failure of each candidate. The two weeks preceding an election are crucial for so-called “get out the vote” efforts. Those who effectively harness marketing communications can expect to perform better than those who do not. So, with email as our guide, let’s see what can be learned by those who fared well at the 2016 Iowa caucus.
How the Candidates Stack Up
The table below shows a few clear distinctions by party and by candidate. For one, Democratic candidates send far more campaigns than their Republican counterparts, at a ratio of nearly 4:1. This indicates greater segmentation, more testing and emphasis on finding the sweet spot with the electorate.
Key findings from the data:
- Read rates held steady for each candidate, with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders rising above the average.
- Deleted without reading (DwR) rates, a proxy for how many people are ignoring messages, held steady as well, with Marco Rubio dropping below average and Trump receiving the most ignores.
- Finally, the ever-important mailbox provider-marked spam rate. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are grand master spammers, with each pushing 4 percent. That means nearly one in every two emails sent by the Cruz and Rubio campaigns go directly to junk. Not good when trying to drum up support.
[Note about the charts: the Average Spam Rate is mailbox provider-marked spam]
Cruzing to Victory
The headline out of Iowa this year was Ted Cruz’s defeat of billionaire Donald Trump. The day before the caucus, Huffington Post showed Trump with 32 percent to Cruz’s 12 percent in nationwide polls. And although Cruz led Trump in Iowa-centric polls, just days before the caucus the Des Moines Register reported Trump had reclaimed the lead by five points. And yet, at the end of the night, Cruz beat Trump by 3.5 percent (a near 7 percent flip).
Though significant, Cruz’s victory was marred by accusations that his campaign sent emails to supporters asserting fellow candidate Ben Carson’s intent to suspend his campaign. Carson claimed he made no such statement and several fellow Republicans have since accused Cruz of using underhanded tactics to win in Iowa. Email is powerful, but as we see, with great power comes great responsibility.
Although activity ramped up as the caucuses approached, there were some inexplicable drop-offs in contact. Campaign volume in the two weeks prior to a momentous event should look like an exponential curve; gradually, yet constantly increasing, with a sharp upward tick in the days and hours before go time.
Trumped by Overconfidence
While proudly bombastic, Donald Trump simply bombed in Iowa. Jeb Bush might be low energy, but Trump is dragging when it comes to campaign volume. Nevertheless, where volume is lacking, readership still appears to be high. It is easy to speculate that many on the Donald’s list are journalists and other mere looky-loos, rather than genuine supporters, accounting for the relatively high read rate. However, polls still show he is twice as popular as any other Republican candidate.