How 'The Texting Election' Is Changing The Way Politicians Talk To Voters Texting has become a cheap and easy way for political campaigns to reach out to voters. But not everyone's happy about it.

Getting Lots Of Political Messages On Your Phone? Welcome To 'The Texting Election'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


At a time when the coronavirus has made traditional campaigning nearly impossible, texting is a cheap and easy way for candidates to get their message out. A lot of voters, though, just find it annoying. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Sometimes Melissa Michelson feels like she created a monster.

MELISSA MICHELSON: I have been apologizing to people for years now. When they mention how many texts they get, I say, I am so sorry. I feel personally responsible.

ZARROLI: Michelson is a political scientist at Menlo College in California. A decade ago, she helped organize a get-out-the-vote drive in San Mateo County. She wanted to see if the new technology of text messaging could be used to reach voters. What she discovered was...

MICHELSON: Text messages were a pretty powerful tool for increasing voter turnout.

ZARROLI: Thanks in part to research like hers, texting has become a big way campaigns get out the vote and raise money. And in the wake of COVID-19, it's really come into its own.

THOMAS PETERS: We look back at the 2016 election, kind of call it the social media election. I think after 2020, people are going to look back and say this was the texting election.

ZARROLI: Thomas Peters is chief executive of RumbleUp, a text messaging platform. Peters says candidates like texting because it's cheap and it works. He says voters don't always read emails and snail mail from campaigns.

PETERS: But 99% of text messages are read, and 90% are read within the first three minutes. So it's a channel that has unparalleled visibility.

ZARROLI: Peters works for Republicans, and he gets the numbers he uses from the campaigns, which collect them from a variety of sources, such as voter registration records. Republicans were late to start texting, but they've more than made up for it. The Trump campaign says it will have sent out a billion texts by Election Day.

JENNIFER STROMER-GALLEY: Really, since the conventions and maybe a little bit before that, the number of text messages I'm getting from the campaign on a daily basis has tripled.

ZARROLI: Jennifer Stromer-Galley of Syracuse University studies political campaigns. This year, she signed up for texts from both presidential campaigns. She gets four times as many texts from Trump as from Biden. And the texts these days are getting more aggressive. They almost sound like they're berating her.

STROMER-GALLEY: The one I received yesterday basically said, do you not care that Donald Trump is running for reelection? Donate now.

ZARROLI: This week, Stromer-Galley even got a text asking her to sign a get-well card for the president. She also hears from a lot of big-name Republicans acting as Trump surrogates.

STROMER-GALLEY: For example, Eric Trump, the head of the RNC. Cory Gardner apparently has sent me a text, Kevin McCarthy.

ZARROLI: The Trump campaign has sent out so many texts that its software program was briefly knocked out of service by spam filters in July. Sending out unsolicited texts en masse is supposed to be illegal, but Ed Gandia has been getting texts from politicians for weeks. He says he never signed up for them.

ED GANDIA: It's one thing for them to have my mailing address but something totally different for them to have my cellphone. It's not something I give out.

ZARROLI: Gandia is a business coach in Georgia, a hot spot of tightly contested elections. He regularly gets texts from presidential and congressional campaigns - texts reminding him where to vote or telling him about an upcoming rally and, of course, lots of texts asking for money. He tries to unsubscribe. They come in anyway.

GANDIA: It's annoying. It's disruptive because many times, my phone is not on vibrate and I'm on business calls. And it seems very disrespectful.

ZARROLI: Gandia says the texts do get his attention. There's just one thing they won't do - they won't sway his vote.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.