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The Campaigns of the Future May Rely Increasingly on Text Messaging

AP Photo / Marcio Jose Sanchez

Political campaigns are moving from the television to your smartphone as candidates try to use new technology to reach voters. Texting has become the next frontier for elections.

A few days before the election, Kylie Beauregard received a text message. It was from a number she didn’t recognize.

“It was basically a reminder. It was from the Virginia Democrats, and it was a reminder to go and vote on Tuesday.”

“How did you feel about them hitting you up on your phone?”

“I was a little surprised because I wasn’t aware they would have access to that information. Not sure how happy I was about that. But since they weren’t soliciting me I didn’t put a stop to it.”

And the texts didn’t stop there.

“The second text was also a reminder, and it also included a link to where you could find out where your polling place was, but it was from a different phone number. And they didn’t indicate they were from Virginia Democrats. So I’m wondering who else has my phone number.”

As it turns out, a lot of people had her private cell phone number. That’s because it’s not just candidates who are texting voters. It’s also groups like the Liberal Women of Chesterfield. Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says the groups used text messaging to turn a reliably red county blue for the first time since 1961.

“These kinds of informal political groups used social media in informal ways of communicating to get out the vote, and text messaging was a big part of that.”

Kidd says voters can expect to see a lot more text messaging in the future.

“The governor’s race in 2017 was a peek into the future I think in some ways because I think this is going to be a primary way that campaigns encourage people to get out the vote in the future.”

In some ways, the future is already here. In the four days leading up to the election, the Democratic coordinated campaign sent 1.4 million texts. Brad Komar was campaign manager for governor-elect Ralph Northam.

I think this is going to be a primary way that campaigns encourage people to get out the vote in the future.

“What you need in a good get out the vote tool or tactic is engagement. It’s not passive. It’s active. You need to have a conversation with people. You need to engage them so that they care enough to go and vote on Election Day. Well the beautiful thing about texting is that it’s not mass. It’s individualized.”

Individualized in a way that allows direct conversation with voters.

“They have the ability to text back, and you get into a texting conversation.”

And that conversation eventually becomes a vote.

“The fact that somebody can engage and start a conversation, ‘Oh does this candidate care about X? Oh, where’s my polling location?’ That back and forth is substantially more likely to turn out voters.”

And it’s not just Democrats who are using texting.

“We actually used texting in some cases for persuasion.”

That’s Chris Leavitt, campaign manager for Republican candidates Ed Gillespie.

“I think it was very effective, and going back to looking at the numbers it’s going to be another 60,000 Republicans who voted in this election, and I think where we utilized it, it was very effective.”

So the next time you receive a text from an unknown number, take a minute to consider that you may be looking at the campaign of the future.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.