Feb 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Why political campaigns won't stop texting you

Illustration of a hand with a megaphone coming out from a mobile phone screen.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If it feels like you're getting an influx of text messages asking you to vote one way or another lately, you're not alone.

The big picture: In 2022, Americans received 15 billion political texts, an unprecedented record, and 2024 is gearing up to be a bigger year for the messages.

  • The amount of texts in 2022 marked a 158% increase from 2021, according to data from Robokiller.
  • At the same time, there was a 57% decrease in political calls.

State of play: Alex Quilici, CEO of call-blocking company YouMail, said that based on data observations, he anticipates political text messages will "go nuts in 2024" as the November election approaches.

  • Young voters are more likely to respond to texts than calls and as voters age, Quilici explained, there are more young people "for whom texts make sense, given they don't answer their phone or pay attention to voicemail."
  • It's entirely possible, he said, for there to be a move to text messaging as a primary way for campaigns to contact voters, and voice calls to become a secondary channel for specific demographics.
  • "We already see more use of texts than in the past for fundraising, for notifications of town halls, for notification of events, for opinion surveys," he said.

Between the lines: A 2021 Supreme Court decision loosened requirements around obtaining consent for sending out mass text messages, rejecting the notion that text messages violate the federal ban on robocalls.

  • "It's a channel that's not blocked," Quilici said, adding that the texts are legal and the focus has instead been on blocking robocalls.
  • Campaigns can access phone numbers through databases made up of public records, which are managed by brokers that in turn sell the data to campaigns, often for pennies per name.

Of note: In 2020, the Republican National Convention sent over 225 million texts to drive voters to the polls.

  • The RNC uses text messaging to engage directly with voters and activate supporters to volunteer and vote, in what is a "critical" part of their Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) campaign, spokesperson Anna Kelly told Axios.
  • "GOTV texting is one of the RNC's key tactics to turn out voters and engage small-dollar donors," Kelly said.

Where it stands: If you want to block such texts, you can typically opt out by replying with "Stop."

  • Several service providers also allow you to block the sender by forwarding unwanted texts to 7726 (or "SPAM"), according to the FCC.
  • The FCC has banned text messages from being sent using an autodialer, unless the user previously gave consent to receive the message or the message is sent for emergency purposes.
  • You can file a complaint with the FCC if you receive unwanted commercial texts, an autodialed text you didn't consent to, or one from a telecommunications company.

Go deeper: Fake Biden robocall traced

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