Four months ago, when we last talked about the email campaigns we were tracking from the Democratic Presidential hopefuls, they were a crowd of at least twenty-two.  The winnowing that’s taken place since then —ten official dropouts — leaves us with fourteen, including the more recently launched campaigns of Mike Bloomberg and Deval Patrick. Among the more prominent dropouts from that earlier crowd were Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke.    

In the table below, we analyze the email audiences and recent thirty-day activity and performance of the eight top polling contenders whose campaigns survive.  Q4 fund raising is also included for each. President Trump’s activity is also included as comparison, because he continues to mail actively to his base. The Democratic candidates are listed in order of their current polling numbers, which may have changed somewhat by the time you read this piece.

As we’ve reported previously, the largest email audiences among the Democrats are in general owned by the strongest polling candidates.  Biden and Sanders show the largest audiences; Bloomberg the smallest. Trends over the past four months are a mixed bag. Biden’s polling eroded somewhat, as did his audience.  Sanders’ audience also eroded, but his polling increased by three points. Warren’s audience grew, but her polling eroded. Buttigieg grew both is polling and his audience. Bloomberg wasn’t in the race four months ago, and his $30 million self-funded advertising campaign seems to have quickly bought him a 6% polling position.  Yet, he has barely any email audience or activity. Yang is also new to this “top eight” group from last August, but does have an active email program, though it’s not one of this group’s top performers. He was also a respectable Q4 fund raiser.  

Sanders and Warren deployed the largest number of campaigns among the Democrats, and the largest number of emails.  Klobuchar and Booker are on the low end for both deployed campaigns and emails sent. Inbox performance is spotty for all of these Democratic candidates.  We consider at least 90% the minimum standard for acceptable inbox performance; yet none of these Democratic campaigns exceeds 80%, with most considerably weaker than that.  Klobuchar’s are only 58%, and Buttigieg has the worst inbox performance of them all: only 49% of his emails are reaching his supporters’ inboxes, which means that he has a 51% spam rate.  Part of Buttigieg’s inbox problem is that he is over-mailing. His email audience may— each — be receiving up to four messages per day.  That’s overkill, and it’s clearly creating spam issues.

But as we know, politicians are not bound by the strictures of CAN-SPAM regulations, and most tend to have sloppy list acquisition and send practices that result in inbox challenges. 

Buttigieg’s inbox issues are especially ironic since he owns one of the higher read rates in this group, and the second highest Q4 fund raising total, behind Sanders.  It’s interesting to think of how much better Buttigieg might be doing with less of his email going to spam.  

Biden and Warren were the other top Q4 fund raisers in this group

Trump continues to show a much larger email footprint than any of the Democratic candidates, while deploying a midrange number of campaigns, and the second largest (behind Warren) number of actual emails.  He’s been using the impeachment battle as the basis for intense fund raising to support his anti-impeachment messaging and reelection campaign. While his inbox performance reflects cleaner practices than his days as a serial spammer during the 2016 campaign, his current inbox rate leaves much room for improvement.  Trump’s read rates are on the high end of the range shown for this period. And he outraised his nearest Democratic opponent by more than 30% in Q4.  

   (*) Source:  Real Clear Politics Survey Composite as of dates shown

  (#) Source: CBS News

The table below shows the strongest overlaps between the candidates’ email audiences, revealing the degree to which individual candidates may truly be competing in the eyes of voters who favor them.  So, for example, Biden has two strong overlaps: 12% of his audience is also receiving email from Warren, and 12% are receiving Buttigieg’s email. Buttigieg’s audience has significant overlaps with five other candidates, most strongly with Biden, Sanders and Warren.  Bloomberg’s email program is as yet too new and too small to have any overlaps. Overlap relationships also provide insight into where certain candidates’ supporters may end up if/when their favorite contender drops out of the race. 

 (*) Reads:  12% of Biden’s email audience is also receiving email from Warren; 12% from Buttigieg..25% of Sanders’ email audience is also receiving email from Biden; 22% from Warren, etc.

Related subject lines tend to reflect how we’re already likely to perceive the candidates themselves.  Here are some of the high performers from the top four candidates.

  • Biden:
    • “Donald Trump is a coward.”  (35% read rate)
    • “Ted Cruz is lying about Joe Biden.” (33%)
  • Sanders (note the unusual length of his subject lines):
    • Can you take our short survey and tell Bernie what your top priorities are for his administration when he’s inaugurated and we are in the White House?” (47%)
    • Can you chip in $2.70? There’s a debate in two days. Our final quarterly FEC deadline before Iowa is in two weeks. If we want to win, we need to step up again?”  (41%)
  • Warren:  
    • Will you join our Persistence Training in [location]? (33%)
    • “I’m tired of freeloading billionaires.” (33%)
  • Buttigieg:
    • “[REDACTED] here are your talking points on climate change” (47%)
    • “The attacks on Pete last night” (35%)

Subject lines can have many areas of focus (e.g., policy issues, volunteer recruitment, local visit announcements, survey requests).  Some may even say, “Not asking for money,” but in truth the call to action in virtually all of these messages is about money.  Thus is it ever.

And so the beat goes on.   For better or worse, we’ve got eleven more months of this drama.  The Iowa Caucuses are on February 3rd; the New Hampshire Primary on February 11th.  Let’s see where we are after that.

~ John