Inside the Democratic Candidates’ War for Your Inbox
An exhaustive 2,700-email analysis of donation requests, emojis, and dog pictures
For all the influence social media has in our lives, it’s still far from a universal medium. It’s true that some 70% of us check Facebook at least once in a while, but only 37% are on Instagram. A Reddit AMA will reach only the 11% of U.S. adults who have ever logged into the platform, and just 22% of U.S. adults ever bother to peer into the pit of rage and despair that is Twitter.
But if you are a person on the internet in 2020, you almost certainly have an email address. And if you are a voting age adult in the U.S., at least one hopeful for political office has likely acquired it by now.
Unlike social media, where the public-facing likes and reshares a post generates are practically as important as the message itself, email is a more private and less performative platform. It allows senders the space to persuade, and the recipient time to be persuaded. And for as long as the internet has factored in political campaigning, it’s been a key part of candidates’ outreach.
These messages can affect the outcome of elections, yet most end up in our digital trash. When Washington, D.C.-based developer Chris Herbert realized last year that there was no archive of these emails for posterity, he took it upon himself to create one. “It’s just one part of the record that unfortunately vanishes once these campaigns are over,” says Herbert.
Herbert is the founder of the Archive of Political Emails, a repository of campaign messages hosted under the auspices of the nonprofit Defending Democracy Together Institute, an advocacy group founded by centrist conservatives.
If you think your inbox is overwhelmed in election season, spare a thought for Herbert’s. He built a tool to subscribe to the email list of politicians, nonprofits, activist groups, and PACs…