Campaign mailers clog Sacramento mailboxes

From the Sacramento Bee - November 3, 2014

Elmets said some television ads are so frequent that they become “white noise.” But aren’t an overflowing mailbox of campaign political advertisements also easily ignored?

“People avoid television commercials, but with direct mail there are three places where that voter is likely to see that piece: when taken from the mailbox, when they put it on their counter and when they throw it in the trash,” said Elmets.

“At each step of the way, it is very possible that it will catch the eye of the voter.”

With the Election Day on Tuesday, the surge of campaign mailers that has packed mailboxes, filled the bags of postal carriers – and tested the patience of potential voters is coming to an end.

Kim Alexander, who founded the nonprofit California Voter Foundation to improve the voting process for voters, has noticed the sheer weight of voter pamphlets.

“I weighed my campaign mail over the weekend,” said Alexander. “Our household is up to four pounds at this point.”

Sacramento political consultant Doug Elmets, who has used campaign fliers to elect candidates, has observed the flood of advertisements in his mailbox.

“I, like everybody else, have been inundated,” he said.

Cheaper than television and able to focus on the exact voter that the candidate wants to reach in an exact way, decidedly low-tech direct mail has been heartily embraced this election by candidates and campaign consultants.

Campaign mail comes in at least two forms: the smiling candidate, spouse on arm, with smiling children – or the children of a supporter – and the attack mailer. In attack mailers even candidates of the same party criticize each other to gain votes.

Alexander has noticed that her mailman has been delivering as late as 7 or 8 p.m. as the campaign season has gone along. However, the U. S. Postal Service said it has not gotten any complaints of late-in-the-day mail delivery in the Sacramento area, despite the campaign season coinciding with the advent of the Christmas catalog mailings.

Alexander said that after weighing her family’s mail and taking a hard look at the slick mailers, she is convinced that there has got to be a better way to conduct a campaign. She lamented the money, planning and voter profiling involved in the mailings.

“Ninety percent of the people who got them are not going to look at them,” she said. “They are going to go right into the recycling bin.”

She called them wasteful and inefficient, but conceded direct mail probably works or campaign staffs would not employ the method.

In other countries there is free air time, public debates and subsidized campaign messaging from parties, but in this country “we have a system that is entirely driven by money.”

She said most mailers are designed to scare and confuse -- not to inform.

“That is sad because most running for office are good people with important messages,” she said.

Alexander noted that direct mail can be micro-targeted, focusing on gender, traditional voters, independents and other factors. Her Land Park home has been flooded with 10-15 fliers a day from such contests as strong mayor Measure L, the Roger Dickinson-Richard Pan for state Senate race and the Kevin McCarty-Steve Cohn for Assembly race.

Sierra Oaks resident Elmets said that he has been getting 8-10 pieces of campaign mail a day. He wonders how much that will increase in two years during the Presidential election when there will be more voters going to the polls.

Elmets said that television ads can’t be fashioned to appeal to specific voters like direct mail.

“TV ads are expensive and they are a scatter shot,” he said.

Elmets said some television ads are so frequent that they become “white noise.” But aren’t an overflowing mailbox of campaign political advertisements also easily ignored?

“People avoid television commercials, but with direct mail there are three places where that voter is likely to see that piece: when taken from the mailbox, when they put it on their counter and when they throw it in the trash,” said Elmets.

“At each step of the way, it is very possible that it will catch the eye of the voter.”

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