How to make robocalls go away

In response to my article on why robocalls are a necessary evil, several readers made the comment that, campaign realities be damned, they hate robocalls and they’ll withhold their votes to make a point about it.* Even Seth Godin weighed in against robocalls this week

[*I hope to find time to write about the consequences of, and alternatives to, making a protest non-vote (short version: you’re voting for BushCo when you do).]

You’re right. Robocalls are damn annoying. But that’s not the point:

Complaining about robocalls isn’t going to change how campaigns work. Neither is telling campaigns ”œjust be better” or ”œjust work harder.” (If you’ve never been in a campaign office on GOTV weekend, you imagination can not fathom the crazy work campaign staffers are putting in right now.)

Democracy is a particpatory sport. If you’re prepared to put your money where your mouth is, you CAN make robocalls go away.

More on what you can do to stop annoying robocalls below the fold

To recap why robocalls are here to stay, there are two key reasons:
1. Resource limitations (not enough people, not enough time) affect the choice of tools to contact voters; and
2. Conflict of interest: political consultants currently make more money on spam techniques than on permission-based political marketing, so they recommend tactics to campaigns that are less effective for the campaigns, but more profitable for the consultants.

Diehard field hacks like me rail against this all the time — but we also have the smallest budgets, the lowest compensation, and we’re in the basement of the political totem pole.

If voters don’t like robocalls, the best way to make them stop at an individual level is to get involved and volunteer for local campaigns (as early as August, and right up to election day), and help run a field program that makes robocalls unnecessary. If your campaigns have already identified enough supporters through the efforts of free volunteers on phone banks and door-to-door canvasses, trust me: they aren’t going to spend unnecessary money on paid phones.

On other words, if campaigns have enough volunteers, they don’t need robocalls. So if you’re not volunteering…you really don’t have grounds to complain. Instead, roll up your sleeves and do something about it.

However, at a higher level, the only way I can see to solve the political spam problem is:

  • open the doors and let everyday people into political campaigns (despite the much vaunted talk of “big tents,” too many political organizations operate as closed-door, in-group shops);
  • shift campaign culture away from air wars (big dollar advertising buys) to ground wars (field operations);
  • educate candidates about their campaign advisors’ conflict of interest, and groom and support consultants who help campaigns win rather than profiting off them.

And that, mes amis, is a very big can of worms indeed, and a cause dear to my own heart.

If you have any thought on how we can affect a cultural shift within Democratic campaigns, I am eager to hear your suggestions. Because what we’re really talking about isn’t robocalls: it is the difference between losing and winning.

Also in the robocall series
Doing Robocalls the Right Way
Why Robocalls Are Here To Stay

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Because the receiver has two options: To ignore it or check the product. When 300 million emails are sent, some receivers will check the product.

    With robocalls the receiver has three options: To listen the message, to ignore it, or take a revenge. Thus here the tradeoff is far worse for the sender of the message and it might backfire. It might be wishful thinking that this shit works.

    By the way, Israel used robocalls to annoy Lebanese suspected Hizbollah affiliates during the nameless war. It might work 5 minutes but in the longer run it backfires.

    Other cheap ways of harassing random voters? Shopping centers, churches, concerts etc. Any parking area will do. Watch what the army recruiters and Jehovah’s witnesses and other professional street jerks do.

    Using robocalls to cheat voters of the opposite party and other scams have worked in the USA. I recommend against just vomiting the plain propaganda to the ear of the poor call receiver. The message should be an invitation or call for some kind of action: donations, visit a website etc. How else can you check if it works at all?

    — 101 ways to avoid the subjunctive mood

  • Robocalls are legal when used for political purposes.

    On a cost-per basis, the only thing that beats them is spam email.

    I received three robocalls yesterday. All were to endorse or smear a candidate. None was GOTV.

    Until either the practice is made illegal or uneconomical, I cannot see a single reason why it will be abandoned, even given hordes of volunteers.

  • The candidate can borrow a gun and shoot him-/herself in a leg. This is even cheaper.

    The cost is a distraction in the logic until somebody answers the question: Does it help in a campaign?

    Similarly, Lamont too has learnt that money doesn’t help without a competitive message.

    By the way, democrats seem to be constantly out of touch in timing. The losing campaigns are supposed to be now in ‘losing gracefully” phase and the winning campaigns in “voter aftercare” preparations.

    — 101 ways to avoid the subjunctive mood

  • The candidate can borrow a gun and shoot him-/herself in a leg. This is even cheaper.

    But a qualified optimist. I myself hope most politicians would aim much higher.

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