Day 58: 7/17/19

Wednesday brought 51 emails from 17 campaigns, as well as 1 surprise email from an old friend. All 17 campaigns sent 26 emails to their non-donor lists, while Eric Swalwell added 1 email to 15 Presidential campaigns and their 25 emails.

There were also 6 emails from End Citizens United and 1 from Democrats Rise (the two PACs my emails had been passed along to without my consent), but I don’t really count those.

Swalwell’s no longer a Presidential candidate, so he doesn’t get counted on these charts.

Joe Biden and Tim Ryan sent the most emails yesterday, at 3 each. Biden wanted me to tell him if I was watching the debates at the end of the month, and he finally sent out an email condemning Trump for his racist attack on four American Congresswomen. In addition, he sent an extra email to me as a donor asking if I could host an event for his campaign’s National Day of Action this weekend.

Tim Ryan started the day by thanking me for the wonderful birthday surprise of a card and undisclosed amount of fundraising. I gotta say, this guy is growing on me a little bit. None of the other candidates who received birthday cards (Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden’s wife) said thank you.

Ryan also asked me twice to contribute to a final push to secure his spot on the debate stage. Only… it’s too late for that. The qualifications were due on Monday, and Ryan made it. He’s on the stage unless he drops out of the race before then, and that is entirely on him. One of those emails also had the subject line “the working class candidate.” Tim Ryan is not working-class, with an income of $165,000 in 2018, plus royalties from his book. None of the candidates in the primary right now are working class, no matter how much they may want you to believe it. Ryan is one of the poorer Democratic candidates, but he’s not the poorest. Regardless, he’s desperately trying to get me to help him be on that stage in a couple weeks, even though there’s nothing more I can do to help him at this point.

Maybe I don’t like him as much as I thought.

Most candidates are interested in getting me interested in the debates. Whether it’s with opinion surveys or fundraising pushes to demonstrate they’re worth their spot on the stage, or contests to invite me to be at the debates with them, every candidate is talking debates.

Joe Sestak has joined the ranks of candidates such as Julian Castro trying to guilt me into supporting them. Sestak began his email with his resume:

A former 3-Star Admiral who commanded an aircraft carrier battle group in war, led the Navy’s first strategic anti-terrorism unit, and was President Clinton’s Director for Defense Policy. A Democratic Congressman representing an almost 2-to-1 Republican district, re-elected without spending any money on campaign ads. A man willing to stand up to his own party’s leadership. Shouldn’t someone with that background be on the Presidential debate stage?

Joe Sestak

That’s not really a question you can answer “no” to without looking like a complete heel.

Julian Castro is even worse, flat out asking me if he deserves his spot:

Please take a second to complete my poll: Do you think I deserve to be on that next debate stage?

 YES! >>    NO

Julian Castro

Again, you can’t really answer “no,” even though you kind of want to, in the back of your selfish little mind. Or maybe it’s just me who feels like if someone asks “don’t I deserve this?” that automatically makes them a little less deserving. It definitely smells more of entitlement.

However, in Castro’s defense… he didn’t mention his immigrant grandmother or single mother!!! That accomplishment definitely warrants three exclamation points on top of italics. You made me proud in that email, Castro, restraining yourself simply to referencing “personal experience.” You are more than your backstory. It’s time for you to move forward!

In addition to Tim Ryan, Steve Bullock and Elizabeth Warren were asking me for money to support them as they climbed onto the debate stage at the end of the month. They both want me to show my support so their voices don’t get lost in the crowd.

Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg has joined the ranks of candidates offering trips to the debates. This is his first contest, but the rules match those of the other candidates’ debate ticket contests: make a donation through the email link, get a chance to win. Michael Bennet and Kamala Harris also sent me emails with their versions of the contest.

But what I really want to talk about today is A/B testing.

Are emails more successful if they’re hopeful or spiteful? Are they more successful if they assume success or beg for it? Are they more successful if the candidate emails or a staffer? I certainly don’t know the answer, and I assume many of you don’t either.

With mailing list programs these days, everything can be tracked. Every single email address in a campaign’s databases are tied to every scrap of data they have on that person. Warren as able to connect my personal email to my BTE donor email due to the same information such as name and address. A lot of information about you is freely available through your voting record, and the Democratic party has a national network that keeps records on Democrats and is frequently updated by volunteers and staffers. If you’ve ever had someone knock on your door to talk politics with you, you’re undoubtedly in their database along with your answers.

It’s not just the voters who are being tracked. Every email is also tracked. These programs can tell if an email was opened, how long was spent reading that email, if links in the email were clicked on, how much of a donation was given, etc. Campaigns can track success rates of different senders, different subject lines, different stories, and they are constantly, constantly trying to improve those rates.

Enter A/B testing. In A/B testing in the context of political emails, a campaign will have an ask (Please give money) and will send out two different emails (We’re doing so bad, please give money to help!/We’re doing so well, please give money to keep it up!). The easiest way is to use their mailing list program to randomize mailing lists so half of their recipients get the first email (A) and half get the second email (B). They then compare the success rates (average donation of $10 to bad email/average donation of $5 to good email) and make conclusions (scare tactics bring in more money). They might also compare rates of open (deadlines in subjects have a better open rate) or click through (signing an email with the candidate’s name gets more people to click on the link than signing it with the campaign’s name). (All of these conclusions were made up by me on the basis of no data and are meant to be examples only).

Undoubtedly, every campaign uses A/B testing. Sometimes I catch it in different subject lines. Sometimes a paragraph or two will change. But on Wednesday, I got both A and B emails from 2 campaigns trying different approaches.

Beto O’Rourke sent 2 very different emails, one to my donor account (Subject: Proud of what we’re building together) and one to my non-donor account (Subject: Falling behind on fundraising). These emails were sent just over one hour apart, with the Proud/Donor email coming at 4:12 PM EST and the Falling Behind/Non-Donor coming at 5:29 PM EST. I marked the first email as Optimistic and the second as Pessimistic. Check out the differences:

Aimin, there’s so much to feel good about in this campaign. We mean it.

Through our latest report, we’ve raised a staggering $13 million from 193,000 donors. From all people, no PACs.

A brand new poll in New Hampshire means Beto is officially qualified for the debates in the fall.

We’ve invested a ton in building out a stellar campaign team in our El Paso HQ. Our National Finance Director started this week. Our Digital Director started a month ago. We opened 11 offices in Iowa. The infrastructure is growing rapidly.

There’s been a lot of talk about what our fundraising numbers last quarter meant. We’re here to tell you that the media narrative is wrong. There’s plenty of time before the first primaries and caucuses in February, and we’re growing in support and size every single day. Still, we have to grapple with the fact that some of our opponents raised two, three, or four times as much as we did last quarter. And it’s important to pick up the pace.

Can you make a $1 contribution now to help us even out the playing field? Your contributions right now could make the difference between being slightly or majorly outraised this next crucial month.

Contribute $1 »

Right now we’re just a bit behind where we need to be for July’s goal. But we’ll be able to get back on track if you can chip in today.

Overall, we should be extremely proud of what we’ve been building together. We’re poised to take off in a big way, and the work we’ve put in over the last few months is all set to pay off.

Team Beto

Look at that! Look how happy and forward-looking the team is! They’re not worried all that much. Yeah, other campaigns raised more, but there’s plenty of time to catch up, and they’re growing every day.

An hour later, though…

A handful of candidates outraised us in the second quarter — some by quite a lot. And since grassroots fundraising has always been a key strength for this campaign, it’s important for us not to slip too far behind.

It looks like we’ll be heavily outspent in the next few months. Other candidates will likely have more ads on TV and online. They’ll have the ability to put more staff on the ground in key states. And some of them have even started super PACs to spend in their favor.

It’s critical for us to pick up the fundraising pace right now. If we don’t, we could lose ground to others who simply have more money to spend.

Can you rush a $3 donation to Beto right now to help us close the gap? Your contributions now will play a key part in deciding whether or not we are victorious in the first primaries and caucuses.

Contribute $3 »

Everyone will be watching closely to see what we can fundraise on the next big report. They want to see if this campaign can compete with some of the other candidates bringing in big checks and relying on super PACs. Whether or not we can largely comes down to how many people step up right now.

You see, emails like this one are responsible for about half of all the money we bring in to this campaign. So whether it’s $5 or $50, every single donation adds up to give us the critical resources we need.

Let’s show them what we’re made of. Make a quick donation to Beto right now to help us close the gap.

Team Beto

This doesn’t sound nearly as upbeat or excited. This is a team that’s worried. This is a team that desperately needs us to pitch in. The topic is the same. The subject is the same. The ask is the same (difference due to how much I had already donated). The tone is radically different, and I guarantee you, Team Beto is watching their numbers closely to see which email is more successful.

Elizabeth Warren did the exact same thing. She used the same subject for both emails (Aimin, this campaign is built by people like you/This campaign is built by people like you) but her body was worded a bit differently.

First off: thank you, Aimin. 

As a grassroots donor, you’re an essential member of this team — and we couldn’t be more grateful that you’re in this fight. Our movement is only growing because of people like you. 

We have a critical mid-July fundraising goal that we’re trying to reach, and we’re so close. 

Can we count on you to chip in $28 (our average contribution!) or whatever you can right now to help crush this goal and keep our movement growing? 

If you’ve saved payment info with ActBlue Express, your donation will process automatically:







 These monthly fundraising goals are extremely important in presidential races — and especially for our campaign. 

Elizabeth doesn’t host any extravagant fundraisers for wealthy donors behind closed doors, and she doesn’t take any contributions from federal lobbyists or PACs of any kind. We rely on people just like you to chip in what they can when they can to keep up our fight. 

Will you contribute today so we can get back on track to hit our mid-July fundraising goal? 

Thank you for everything you do, 

Team Warren

They’re so close to their goal, but need my help to get back on track. (I do need to point out that this email arrived at 5:46 PM EST. At 10:12 AM EST on that same day, they were “over 50% of the way through July, but we’re not 50% to our goal.” Not even halfway to the goal and so close to the goal do not mean the same thing to me)

To non-donor me, though, the message was a little more upbeat.

Right now is the best time to make your first contribution to our campaign.

Not only because we’re so close to reaching our critical mid-July fundraising goal, but because of how this campaign is uniquely built:

Elizabeth doesn’t host any extravagant fundraisers for wealthy donors behind closed doors, and she doesn’t take any contributions from federal lobbyists or PACs of any kind. Her priority is connecting with people just like you, and ensuring that you know that you’re a part of this campaign every step of the way.

Will you make your first gift of $3 today to help grow this movement and own a piece of our campaign?

If you’ve saved payment info with ActBlue Express, your donation will process automatically:







 As a grassroots donor, every time you see Elizabeth attending an organizing event or hosting a town hall instead of a private fundraiser for the rich, you’ll know that you helped make that possible.

When you see her on the debate stage at the end of the month, you’ll feel proud knowing that you own a piece of this campaign.

With your help, we’ll be able to breeze past our mid-July fundraising goal and continue to build this movement together.

Will you make your first contribution now so we can hit our mid-July fundraising goal and grow this movement together?

Thank you,

Team Warren

Still so close, but now that they’re trying to coax me to join a winning team, they’ll be able to breeze past their mid-July goal with my help instead of needing me to get them back on-track.

I wish I had access to their data so I could see how successful the different approaches are. I wish I could see the results of their A/B testing. Unfortunately, the only way I’ll be able to see is through the emails they send me. As they narrow in on what works, their emails will become less varied (though some variation is needed to keep things fresh).

But notice that the key in A/B testing is recording the response. Your response to an email in your inbox is in some ways more important than the fact that they sent the email at all. If you, if I, if we want to make political emails better, more tolerable, and more interesting, we need to respond.

The best way you can give feedback to a political email is with a donation. If an email does something that you like or approve of, if it’s an email that you actually took the time to read, find a link in the email to get to the campaign and throw them a dollar or two. Even if they’re not asking for money, try to get from the email to a donation page. For example, when a candidate comments on a national tragedy, such as the anniversary of a mass shooting, if they do so in a respectful manner that makes you feel hopeful or see a better future, try to get to their website and throw them a dollar. If they’re asking for something in the email that costs you nothing (Watch this video! Check out my plan!) and you approve of that email, go ahead and click that link. It provides statistics that help the campaign see “this is the sort of email our supporters like to see,” and then they will send more.

On the flip side, if you really don’t like an email, go ahead and mark it as spam, or reply to it (most campaigns “send” from their general info address, so replying should get you somewhere that is monitored by a human) and let them know. If too many emails are getting marked as spam or deleted without being opened at all, mail providers like Gmail actually punish the sender by marking their emails as lower priority, sending them to Promotions inboxes or even directly to spam themselves. Some mailing list programs actually punish people who are getting too-high spam rates as well, because if mail sent using NGP VAN (a common tool for Democratic mailing/voter lists) is getting marked as spam, then all NGP VAN emails might get flagged by the email provider as spam, even if it’s sent from a different campaign.

Interacting with political email always feels risky, like if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile, but if you completely ignore everything, they will continue to dance and scream for your attention. It is important to reward the good behavior, to train our politicians to treat us and our inboxes the way we want to be treated.

Because he’s no longer running for President, Swalwell’s email was not added to this chart.

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