Debate 4

In just a few minutes from this post going live, the fourth Democratic Presidential debates will begin on CNN. I’ll try to be live-tweeting and let you know if anyone is emailing during the debates.

I asked Twitter what they wanted to compare today, and they asked for four things:

  • What do the candidates talk about?
  • Who are the candidates negative toward?
  • What rhetorical devices are used?
  • How do they talk about their goals?


  • Donor and non-donor emails are not separated for these counts. Gray bars indicate total emails sent since May 21.
  • Totals might not add up to 100% because candidates could talk about multiple things in the same email, be negative toward multiple groups in the same email, or use multiple rhetorical devices in the same email.

What Is Talked About

The emails cover a variety of topics. Welcome emails are sent to on-board the supporter to the mailing list. Campaigns may have added welcome emails to their lists since these numbers were taken. Most of these numbers come from May 21 or June 28, the days I signed up and signed up as a donor.

Yang had a couple emails of greeting.

Campaigns might also talk about the events they’re going to or have gone on, or things they’re hosting. Meet-ups and rallies and speeches fall under the category of “Campaign Events.”

I like knowing what they’re doing with the money they ask for.

Some campaigns choose to host contests, where I could give money (or enter with no purchase) and win something. Usually, it’s time with the candidate. Sometimes, it’s a hat.

I did not count “You could get a call!” as a contest.

Campaigns really like it when there’s a debate on the horizon. They love to talk about if they’re qualified and what they might do or say.

So much debate talk!

When something noteworthy happens in the news, the campaigns like to talk about it. This can include tweets from someone else, natural disasters, man-made disasters, this day in history… anything that’s noteworthy but not coming from themselves.

Biden talks Trump a lot.

Campaigns also really love when they get attention. If they’re talking about their appearance on a show or in an article, it’s counted as a Media Appearance.

Some don’t puff up as much as others.

Of course, the one thing everyone wants to know is what will candidates actually do. Campaigns send emails about their policies occasionally.

They must actually talk about the MEAT of their policy, not just “I have a plan.”

You can’t run a campaign without money, and you can’t get money if you don’t ask for it. If a campaign is asking for money without bothering to talk about some other reason (such as debate or policy), they get thrown into the fundraising bucket.

Looking at the percentages here is interesting…

Finally, of course, there are the emails that don’t fall into any of the above categories. These are usually fluffy and happy emails saying how awesome I am, or just talking about the candidate’s backstory.

A low ratio of fluff to content is good.

Of course, coming up with emails is hard. Frequently, campaigns will reuse some or all of a previous email. When that happens, they get dinged for repetition.

This includes FWD: Wanted to make sure you saw this!

Who Is Attacked

Most of the attacks so far this cycle have been mild, but there have been attacks. When candidates complain about “the DNC” or call out specific candidates by name, I count that as negative toward other Dems. When they imply that other candidates are less-good for how they campaign, I count that as negative.

The higher the first number, the less I like the candidate.

It’s not just attacks against Dems. Campaigns also go after the Republicans* with a lot more venom.

*I do not count attacks on Trump/his administration here. He got his own special category.

However, mercifully, most campaigns choose not to go negative toward either party for the majority of their emails.

Ordered from fewest to most negative emails.

Now, emails about Trump are counted separately than the negativity above. The candidates must actually be talking about Trump in a way that is more than just “We will defeat him in the election” to register here.

Trump is a popular talking point.

Rhetorical Devices Used

When writing an email, it’s easy to fall back to formulas that have worked before. These rhetorical devices are usually both familiar and lazy, and I guarantee you’ve seen them all before. We’ll start with the Ask/Explain: I’m about to ask you to make a donation, but first I want to explain why…

Don’t tell me you’re going to explain why you’re going to ask. Just ask, or just start explaining!

The Backstory rhetorical device is when a candidate shares their past in an effort to make a connection. It can be powerful when used appropriately, for example, when a veteran talks about their military service and ties it to current military affairs.

If I can recite your backstory along with you, it’s lost all meaning and potency.

First/Then/Now is used to set up a chain of connected events. It’s an easy way to frame an email: First I stood up for myself, then Trump insulted me, now I need your help. It’s overused and boring.

Some candidates disagree with me.

Using the Good News/Bad News framing is also overused and boring. It sets up a contrast that can make a high seem higher or a low seem lower, but it usually just comes across as being overly dramatic.

Good news: most campaigns don’t overdo this one! Bad news: A lot still use it.

Ah, the humble Humble. It’s good to be humble, but when you’re running for President, you have an ego. Period. You think you’re the one person good enough to run the entire country. You have an ego. You may have your ego under control, but it definitely exists.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t be humbled by something that happens, and it’s okay to use the word “humble” occasionally. However, humble is like altruistic. If you keep telling someone that you are, you probably aren’t.

I added this solely for one candidate, and one candidate alone.

I appreciate a short email. I don’t appreciate an email that tells me that they’re going to keep it short or quick or get straight to the point. By telling me that, you’ve unnecessarily made the email longer.

I can see your email is short just by looking at it. You didn’t have to tell me it was short.

Let me be honest with you. The truth of the matter is. The real truth is. Let me be clear. I’m telling you the truth.

Why is it that the more a candidate insists they’re speaking the truth, the less prone I am to believe them? It’s like Trump saying “Believe me.” That always signals what’s about to come out of his mouth is a lie.

It’s not just a Trump thing; he’s just the most obvious example right now.

It’s good to apologize when you screw up. It’s better to not screw up in the first place. If you send me an email apologizing for sending me an email… you knew sending the email was the wrong thing to do. Don’t apologize for asking for money. I know you have to ask for money. Just ask.

But again, an apology for a genuine screw up, like “Whoops, links were broken!” is good.

Please and Thank You are the magic words. Again, overusing them is painful, but when you’re spending all your time asking me for money, I really do appreciate a genuine “Thank you.” Not a flippant “Thanks!” or an “I’m so grateful!” Say the words. The two words together. Thank you. And not as a closer to your email!

MANY campaigns say “Thanks!” or sign off with “Thank you!” or have some variety of gratitude/appreciation. These are the ones that actually spelled out “Thank you” in the body of their emails.

I have donated to every single campaign represented on the debate stage tonight. Most have received between $1-$30 from me. When I get emails calling me one of their top supporters, I have to laugh. It clearly means this is a batch email and they’re calling everyone their top supporters. It becomes meaningless.

Nevertheless, I am propping up Biden’s campaign.

How Goals Are Talked About

Campaigns do a lot of talking about goals and deadlines, but they aren’t the best at actually setting their deadlines. If a campaign gave BOTH an end time and/or date and a goal amount (whether cash, donations, or donors), I considered them having given me a deadline.

Biden loves his deadlines.

A popular method of attempting to raise money is by saying that they are tracking behind/they won’t make their goal unless EVERYONE (that means you!) chips in. Personally, I hate this method. I feel like it gives the impression that the campaign can either not plan or not budget appropriately.

Interesting that 4 of the top 5 candidates are the worst offenders… and 1 is the least-worst offender.

Campaigns being willing to announce that they missed a goal are very, very rare. However, missing a goal still means that the goal was concluded, and it gives the donors a sense of closure.

I can respect a candidate who missed a goal.

Of course, everyone is happier when a candidate can report that they successfully met their goal.

They might use the same goal in multiple emails, and it counts as a separate “We made it!” every time.

But the thing people love the most is when a campaign totally crushed their goal! They really kicked it out of the park! Or at the very least, they say they raised more than they asked for.

Again, they can use the same goal that they crushed in multiple emails to boost their numbers here.

Sadly, there isn’t much closure to the endless fundraisers. We’re left wondering if we were good enough. It really hampers excitement if you never know how it ends.

4 thoughts on “Debate 4

  1. I’m so happy (but not surprised) that Pete Buttigieg is one of the least offending campaigns when it comes to overused rhetoric devices. His email strategy is one of my favorite nerdy under-the-hood aspects of his campaign (another is the design tool kit!) 😀


  2. Just catching up with the blog posts, and I loved the charts! Congratulations! Quite an interesting set of charts!
    Ok, I’m super biased but there really is something different with the Buttigieg campaign and the way they reach to their donors and supporters.


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