Today marks the one year anniversary of But Their Emails! (Leap year = 366 days!) It has certainly been a wild ride!
For all new readers: Welcome! I am currently on the mailing lists of 1 candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination, but I’ve been on 28 mailing lists! This blog breaks down recent emails with charts and excerpts. If you already know all of this, feel free to skip to the next chart!
I signed up to all mailing lists either on May 21 or the day the candidate announced, whichever was later. Using a different email address, I have donated at least $1 to all candidates who have been on a debate stage (I have given additional donations to my preferred candidates through my personal email, but the campaigns have linked the two accounts together and may ask for more as a result).
When showing breakdowns by campaigns, there will usually be 2 numbers. Emails to my non-donor account will be indicated by a darker color/top bar in horizontal bar charts. Emails to my donor account will be indicated by a lighter color/bottom bar.
Unless otherwise specified, all other charts combine the donor and non-donor numbers, as they are roughly 1-for-1, so the percentages and relative differences don’t change much. You can divide the numbers in half to get the rough estimate for what someone not signed up twice would be receiving. The rules I try to follow for the various categories are laid out in The Framework.
If you want specific data on any particular day, feel free to drop a comment!
We’ll start with Joe Biden, as per usual. 3 emails in a day, all asking the same thing.
He had a long email about his campaign strategy, which included a lot of numbers that didn’t comfort me nearly as much as it seemed to comfort his campaign.
They didn’t cite their source for these numbers, so I’m glad that at least 50% prefer Biden over Trump in every case, but I’m concerned that it’s not all that much over 50%. Still, the campaign is happy.
The campaign is also worried about the cash-on-hand advantage that the Republicans have, plus Biden asked me to donate so I could be on his potential call list, which sometimes he goes through with Elizabeth Warren.
But… it’s been a year. What does a year of political emails look like?
It looks like a LOT.
Over the past year, Donation asks have been the most prevalent, though perhaps only being 70% of the asks is a bit of a surprise. Many of the other asks were fairly evenly distributed, with surveys being the second favorite ask by just 0.3%. (Attend was not tracked throughout, unfortunately). Surprisingly, there were more “Other” asks (such as signing birthday cards or explaining why you are supporting someone) than there were “Outside” asks (donating to another worthy cause outside the campaign).
By the end of his campaign, Bernie Sanders had stopped soliciting campaign donations and was instead sending email after email asking me to split a $5 donation between these 9 or 10 charities working on COVID-19 relief. Twitter was excitedly chirping about how generous and giving he was, and wouldn’t it be great to have a President who thought about others?
Except… he was far from the most generous candidate. And he certainly wasn’t the only candidate asking me to give money outside his campaign. The honor for most generous goes to Beto O’Rourke, who spent a full 17.2% of his asks asking if I could give to a charitable cause that would help immigrants or flood victims.
Amy Klobuchar was the second-most generous candidate, though her asks usually came in the form of splitting a donation between herself and someone else running for Congress.
Bernie came in third, with a full 10 of his 19 asks coming after Super Tuesday, when it was fairly obvious he was not going to be the nominee.
Joe Biden tied with Cory Booker for fourth most generous candidate, just one ask below Bernie. At the rate he’s going, he’ll probably climb into the top three before November.
Most of the candidates focused their emails on fundraising, which is what everyone expected. I suspect the debate category was elevated this cycle, though, as qualifying for the debates became harder with a fractured field and much more important. Trying to solicit donors for the debates was paramount throughout the summer of 2019, with everyone vying for at least a dollar.
One way that most of the candidates attempted to engage people was by offering up contests. You could win everything from signed merchandise to a personal phone call to a trip to meet with your candidate, if only you donated a dollar. Pete Buttigieg sent nearly a quarter of all the contest emails, with offers of everything from pizza with Pete to burgers with Buttigieg. He offered a trip to the Iowa caucuses to spend the day with the team, and he offered the popular debate trips for many of his debates.
Elizabeth Warren also offered debate trips, but she liked to invite people to enter to win to grab a beer with her. Her “donate to get a phone call” emails were not counted as contests (or else she would have outstripped Pete by miles!).
Cory Booker liked inviting people for meals and debates. He liked to have meaningful interactions with his supporters, and he promised he wouldn’t make you eat something vegan.
What surprised me the most was the lack of contests from Bernie Sanders. There was never an element of chance with him: no signed merch, no one-on-one interactions, not even the temptation of a personal phone call. Bernie believed in treating everyone equally to the point where special treatment wasn’t even an option, even if everyone would have an equal chance at that special treatment.
Overall, the Democrats are largely positive about the future. Their emails were usually neutral, but when they strayed into excess emotion, they were upbeat and optimistic more than anything else.
However, it was actually Joe Biden who had sent the most negative emails (though his emails have been largely upbeat ever since he became the presumptive nominee). Most of his pessimism was about the state of the primary and how he was lacking in money and was clearly the only one that Trump cared about, so why should someone else be the winner. I remember vividly emails from his campaign going “It would be a real shame if we nominated someone who can’t beat Trump…”
Julian Castro was also very pessimistic about his odds and his chances, frequently begging for me to send him gifts so he could stay in the race. Elizabeth Warren, oddly enough, was also growing desperate, especially in December of 2019, where she was far behind on her donation goals and very worried.
Though it feels like every other email is just a rehash of an old template, very few are actually using the methods I’m tracking. The number of times I receive a “first, let me ask to explain to you why I’m going to ask you for money” email is much fewer than it feels like. However, these email tropes are tropes for a reason, tired and obvious when they appear.
However, the one word that set me on edge was “Humble.” There is nothing wrong with being humble. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with being humbled. But an overuse of humble made me grind my teeth every time it came up, and the above chart illustrates the problem.
Of the 218 uses of the word “humble” in political emails over the past year, Julian Castro was responsible for 45% of them. In a field of 28, that is far too many to actually be humble.
Joe Biden is catching up on humble usage, but when you consider that a full 14% of all of the emails in my inbox come from Biden and he is the only one I’m still counting, having 19% of the use of the word humble is fairly spot-on and much more forgiveable.
I am not surprised that the longer a candidate remained in the race, the more emails they sent me. That part makes sense. But there was one major exception…
Tulsi Gabbard was the 3rd-to-last candidate standing. She didn’t even send me enough emails to get her value in her pie slice.