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How Text Messaging Is Being Used in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign

Published on May 6, 2016
Text messaging in the 2016 presidential election campaign

If you’ve been a longtime observer of politics and text messaging, you might have heard about Barack Obama’s historic text in 2008, announcing he had chosen his vice-presidential candidate. Obama’s text message was hailed as a landmark moment in politics and technology, and analysts observed a connection between Obama’s use of technology and his support from younger voters. Some even credit Obama’s win to his strong use of emerging media.

For the candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, outreach via text message is a given. All of the remaining candidates—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump—allow supporters to sign up for updates via SMS short codes. You can even ask their SMS chatbots where your closest polling place is and donate money to their respective political campaigns.

Hillary Clinton's campaign uses text messaging to help voters find polling places

The Bernie Sanders campaign has particularly embraced text messaging. At his July 2015 live-streamed house party, Sanders invited his followers to text “WORK” to his SMS short code. Supporters rose to the challenge. Within hours, Sanders had received almost 50,000 responses from the 100,000 viewers watching the event. With a simple one-word text, Sanders asserted himself as a viable candidate, not to be underestimated. His short code continues to be projected at events throughout America, and his subscription count has only increased.

Nearly 10 months later, the Sanders campaign continues to make effective use of text messaging. Last September, Zach Fang, Sanders’ then regional field director in Iowa, realized that most of Sanders’s millennial supporters weren’t showing up at grassroots political events. Since Sanders is well-known for his support among millennials, this was strange and confusing. The solution turned out to be simple: Reach younger supporters over text messages. Many members of Generation Y see phone calls as time-consuming and intrusive, so they weren’t responding to campaign calls in the same way as older supporters. Fang used the app Hustle to send mass text messages to supporters about volunteering at political events. Younger supporters responded extremely positively, and Hustle became a vital part of Sanders’s campaign, all across America. Text for Bernie also allows supporters to reach potential Sanders voters by text messaging instead of over the phone.

Though text messaging has also helped Donald Trump, it may have gotten his campaign in trouble. Chicago resident Joshua Thorne is suing the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text messages. This practice breaches the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which states that it is illegal to send automated SMS texts without prior authorization from recipients. How the lawsuit will play out remains to be seen, but it is a great reminder about sending unwanted texts. Check out our SMS compliance page for our tips about gaining express written consent from your clients.


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