We’re conscientious voters in my household, never missing a chance to cast a ballot. And that’s probably why, in the final weeks before elections, we find our mailbox flooded with a tsunami of political advertisements. In the recent primary, for example, nearly 200 pieces of mail showed up for my wife, my daughter and me, with 29 of them arriving on the Monday before the election, long after we had made up our minds and voted by mail. As a voter, I was annoyed by the 7 pounds of mail we received. We got 19 mailers in the race to replace County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 16 of them from a single candidate. In the race for the state Senate seat that Ted Lieu vacated to run for Congress, 70 pieces of mail came. Fifty-five mailers came from those hoping to replace retiring Congressman Henry A. Waxman, 43 of them on behalf of candidates who didn’t make it into the runoff. And there were 25 so-called slate mailers laying out a list of candidates we should vote for, most of whom (if you read the fine print) had paid to be included on the slate.
As a voter, I was annoyed by the 7 pounds of mail we received — seriously, I weighed it. But as a campaign strategist who for several decades has run or advised dozens of campaigns, I understood the impulse behind the mailings. Still, the experience left me with a question: Does this kind of deluge actually get results?
It’s easy to see why campaigns like mail. Anyone hoping to get elected to office has to do two things: introduce himself to voters in a persuasive way (hence the mailers with beaming candidates surrounded by loving admirers) and convince voters that the alternative is terrible (which accounts for the mailers blasting the opposition).