Week 15: August 25-August 31

Week 15 brought many new Twitter followers (hello everyone!) and more fears of missed deadlines than I’ve ever noticed before. Kamala Harris spammed me half to death, while Pete Buttigieg seemed unaware of the date. Marianne Williamson asked for everything, and I broke out some brand new charts!

The weekend FELT rough, but it really wasn’t. Also, the square is where I donated and started doubling up.
Just to remind everyone: Dark/Top color is non-donor account, light/bottom color is donor account.

With a whopping 26 emails in just 7 days, Kamala Harris wins Neediest Candidate of the week. Really, there’s not even competition this week. Joe Biden only managed to pull off 20 emails in a week, and Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker both only squeaked out 18.

Before you go around saying “all candidates’ emails are the same,” take another look at that chart. Depending on who you were supporting, you could have gotten more than three emails a day or less than one. Spam is not a requirement for a powerful political campaign!

This is actually exactly as I’d have theorized.

Wednesday was the September debate qualification, so after a weekend break, all of the campaigns who hadn’t already qualified began ramping up their desperate begging for support. Unfortunately for all the campaigns who hadn’t already qualified, most of them were lacking in polls in addition to donors, and no amount of crying could wring poll numbers out of a mailing list.

With Wednesday’s deadline past (and Kirsten Gillibrand dropping out), the campaigns took Thursday to take a collective breath before resuming their screams for money. Saturday was the end of the month!!! They were behind!!!

436 total emails this past week.

And before you tell me I’m exaggerating for comedic effect, I actually started tracking this. Nearly a quarter of all the emails I received this week were fretting about how they were not on track to hit their goal. 10 of the 20 campaigns I was still tracking had already qualified for the debate stage. The panic was palpable.

For this new chart, goals are usually financially based (donor or money amounts), but they can also include things such as making it onto the debate stage. “We didn’t get the polls we needed” counted as a missed goal.

Simply saying that a campaign was short wasn’t enough to register as “behind.” A campaign had to also give some indication that achieving their goal in the time they had left was either impossible at their current pace or nearly impossible unless EVERYONE contributed (basically, if they were telling me that without me specifically, they were doomed, then they were doomed).

Absolutely nobody told me that they had made their goal or surpassed it. Maybe that will come next week.

Remember to split these numbers roughly in half to get donor/non-donor versions.

Money or debate prep surveys were the two biggest asks of the week, but there were a few campaigns that just wanted to give me information. Kirsten Gillibrand wanted to let me know she was dropping out. Pete Buttigieg wanted me to read up on his education-related policies and give me some results of a survey he’d done earlier. And Joe Sestak wanted to keep me up-to-date on his campaign schedule for the week. 4 times.

Pete Buttigieg was also the only candidate to ask me for something a bit unorthodox: he wanted to hear my story about an educator that really made a difference in my life. In fact, other than reminding me about his contest to win debate tickets (which ended on September 1st instead of August 31 and was therefore not aligned with an end-of-month deadline), Buttigieg didn’t ask me to donate money at all.

Amy Klobuchar was willing to split her donations, offering one email to make a donation split between herself and John Hickenlooper’s new Senate campaign, and another to split between herself and J.D. Scholten against Iowa’s Steve King.

Julian Castro, meanwhile, made a stand against animal abuse. Specifically against animal euthanasia for population control (i.e. kill shelters)

I have to admit, it was not the direction I expected.

I can’t help but feel like there’s a difference between all the different things Castro was asking for in this email: euthanasia, euthanasia for population control, and animal abuse. It left me scratching my head, but that’s okay. It was clearly just an International Dog Day stunt, as he hasn’t mentioned it since. (Though he didn’t do anything for International Cat Day…)

Distractions aside, money was still the big ask. And one campaign towered above the rest.

Average ask: $43.95

Clearly a staunch believer in “you don’t get what you don’t ask for,” Marianne Williamson dipped her emails in a slew of donation buttons that included $500 and $1,000 buttons, as well as the maxed-out $2,800. She was soaring high on her wings from Monday’s Monmouth poll, which gave her her very first 2% in a DNC-certified poll for the debates.

It’s really too bad that even Monmouth came out afterwards and called that poll an outlier, which does happen in statistics.

Bernie Sanders was also pretty pleased with that Monmouth poll, as it put him tied for first with Elizabeth Warren and ahead of Joe Biden.

And there it is.

After months of being counted out and written off by the political and media establishment of this country, a new national poll just released shows us in first place.

Monmouth National Poll – August 26
Bernie Sanders: 20%
Elizabeth Warren: 20%
Joe Biden: 19%
Kamala Harris: 8%
No one else above 5%

The momentum is undeniable. Bernie is +6 since their last poll, a bigger jump than any candidate. Help us keep it up, and we’re going to win:

Faiz Shakir, Campaign Manager, Bernie 2020

Again, it’s really too bad that no other poll is reflecting this and Monmouth is saying it is an outlier.

It sticks out like a sore thumb.

With money and fundraising on the brain, surely I had a great time seeing all the different ways that campaigns found to ask for money, right? Surely, with 20 campaigns in the field, there would be 20 creative approaches… right?

It’s sad that any of these except “thank you” were repeated enough to register.

I spent the entire weekend combing back through the 4,300+ emails in my inbox and adding new categories. Watch for this chart to grow more refined as I have time to break it down better.

These rhetorical devices are common themes I’ve seen over and over and over again in the various emails. All too often, it feels like the email writers all went to the same school of how to write a marketing email.

  • Ask/Explain: Always starts the same way. “In a moment, I’m going to ask for a donation, but first let me explain why it’s important…” If the email starts off by asking me to give them a moment to explain, it’s an Ask/Explain. I hate these emails. It’s such a word churn. Get to the point!
  • Backstory: If I have to hear about a candidate’s single mother or childhood struggles, they’re telling me their backstory. Once is maybe okay, but if I can recite your history along with you, you’ve leaned waaaaaay too heavily on your childhood. As a note: previous accomplishments showing why they are a suitable candidate are not counted as backstory, but reciting the path of careers that led them to this point is. And if you tell me any medical history of anyone in your family, that’s backstory. I’m looking at you, Joe Sestak, Joe Biden, and Julian Castro. And no, John Delaney, I don’t believe that you understand the struggles of the everyday American because you came from a relatively lower-middle-class family as a child.
  • First/Then/Now: This one is very specific. If they start three successive paragraphs or points with those three words (Now could sometimes be changed for “Next” or “And now” or “and then” as long as it’s still the third in a list that starts with First and Then), then they used a First/Then/Now style of email. This is not the same as listing things (First, Second, Third), which is surprisingly infrequent compared to First/Then/Now.
  • Good/Bad News: In either order, an email that includes both good news and bad news. If it only has one or the other, it doesn’t count. The juxtaposition of the good against the bad is something many candidates like to take advantage of for some easy drama.
  • Humble: Honestly, this one is in here for one candidate in particular. Many of the candidates have occasionally slipped in that they’ve been humbled by our generosity or they’re humbly asking for more money, but Julian Castro has turned the humble word from a scalpel to a cudgel. In 4,485 total emails, 77 have used some variant of the word “humble.” 54 of those were Castro’s emails. I feel like “humble” is similar to “altruistic”: if you have to tell someone you are, then you really aren’t.
  • Keep it Short: If an email is going to keep it short or quick or brief, it falls under this category. Sometimes being blunt or getting straight to the point also count as Keep it Short, depending on context. An email that says it’s going to be short isn’t always actually short.
  • Truth/Honesty: This one is the most nebulous, but if an email talks about “here’s the truth” or “let me be honest” or “let me be clear,” or “the facts are,” or “here’s the reality,” then I lumped it into this category. A lot of candidates like to tell me the truth. Not all of them actually do. It’s unfortunate, but statements like the above are automatic yellow flags for me now. If someone tells me what the truth is, chances are good that I’ll try to confirm they’re actually telling me the real truth.
  • Sorry: This is a very specific apology: apologizing for emailing me and asking for something. Sorry to nag, we hate these emails as much as you do, etc., these are all “Sorry” by my reckoning. Joe Biden is definitely one of the worst offenders for the sorry email.
  • Thank You: This is a very specific thank you. Many campaigns throw a “Thanks!” into the sign-off, but that’s easy and automatic. I sign off almost all of my professional emails with a “thanks!” I don’t always mean it. Sometimes, I leave off the exclamation point to show that I’m really not serious about my gratitude. So what have I counted as an official thank you from a campaign? First of all, both of those words. Thanks is too casual for a sincere sign of gratitude. The email must say “Thank you.” The thank you also cannot be in the last sentence before the name of the email signer. “Thank you for all you do, Team Kamala” would not count. “Thank you for all you do. Respectfully, Joe Sestak” would. This narrows the thanks down considerably. Much to my surprise, campaigns that started off strong with the thanks, such as Andrew Yang and Tim Ryan, have completely stopped bothering, while Bernie Sanders remained relatively consistently thankful, with an email every few days including some variation of “Thank you in advance for all that you do.”
  • Top supporter: If an email tells me that I’m one of their top, strongest, or most dedicated supporters, I laugh. For most of these campaigns, I’ve only given $1 at the most. I get “top supporter” emails on my non-donor account all the time, which really makes me pity their campaign.

So. These are the new categories that I’ll be tracking, and over the next week or two, I’ll be breaking them out by candidate (if I can). I was very surprised at the revelations I discovered when going back and reading every email a candidate sent me back to back: Amy Klobuchar is much more optimistic than I’ve given her credit for. Steve Bullock is much more repetitive. Tim Ryan is much more creative, at least in his use of rhetorical devices.

Marianne Williamson is still a rambling mess.

Elizabeth Warren has hit 200 emails, and Andrew Yang is closing in on 100.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, consider supporting me on Ko-Fi. But Their Emails! merch is also available on for purchase here!

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