Brace yourselves, the political robocalls are coming.
Imagine if you would, it’s a Wednesday night. After a long day at work, you finally sit down for dinner. It’s taco night and the whole family is around the kitchen table. As the TV wails on in the background, your children start stuffing their word holes with tacos, quietly transfixed by what’s on TV. A moment of perfect tranquility. Then this happens…
That right there is a political robocall. It’s a computerized system that auto-dials a list of numbers within a political district. These political robocalls are used not only by politicians, but by super PACs, unions, and other political groups during an election year. They are the phone call equivalent of getting an STD through a public toilet. While yes, you shouldn’t be picking-up that phone so quickly, you can’t help but feel much of the blame goes to someone else in this situation.
To say the least, these calls can be incredibly irritating, especially when it comes to living in a battleground state. Back in the 2008 presidential election it was reported that both the Obama and McCain campaigns had released 16 robocalls in a six week period. With those type of numbers, you’ve now officially crossed over from “excessive” to “ex-boyfriend who seriously can’t get the hint” territory!
Also robocalls aren’t just annoying; they can actually do some serious harm. Take what happened in Phoenix for example. In 2012 Jeff Flake’s Senate campaign called more than 100,000 registered Democrats and told them to go to the wrong polling location! Actually that encapsulates Sen. Flake pretty well. A move that is both smart and extremely dickish.
Well there is some hope. Recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started circulating a government proposal in which it would ask phone companies to consider providing technology that would block all robocalls to their customers. Granted, the measure is mostly for those who are using robocalls illegally (aka telemarketers), but they would also encompass those that work in campaigns as well.
While more legitimate areas of academic research and campaign reporting would be affected by the blocking of robocalls (ie pollsters), political operatives are also warning that the general electorate would feel the hit as well arguing that they also provide a vital service.
Their reasoning is simple. Since they are constantly engaging the general public with these robocalls, political operatives feel that they serve a vital role in educating the public about issues and candidates on an election year. Or also known as the ‘Law and Order’ approach to politicking. Like many Americans, I too learned about “pleading the Fifth” while hung-over on a Sunday afternoon, watching a ‘Law and Order’ marathon.
Now the role political operatives say they play by informing the general electorate through robocalls would be incredibly useful, if it weren’t such full of shit!
Robocall research has proved time and again that all they really do is just annoy Americans. In a 2008 Pew Research survey found that nearly two-thirds (65%) hang up the phone once they realize it’s a political robocall. What’s worse research has shown – that whether someone listens to the phone call or not – it honestly doesn’t matter!
In a 2004 book, Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout, Yale political science professor Don Green ran 12-robocall experiments to see if robocalls would in fact increase voter turnout. Based on his results, he found that the calls never raised voter turnout, had no mobilization effect, or persuasion effect. The political robocalls did absolutely nothing, except to annoy the participants.
There you have it. Science has proven robocalls to literally be ‘The Kardasians’ of political tactics.
So then why do any of this. If voters hate it and if the robocalls themselves are ineffective in doing anything, then why do campaigns and political organizations use them?
Well simple, they’re cheap.
The average cost of a political ad space is about $1,000. The average cost of a robocall, is just seven cents per call. That’s why – usually in the final stretch of campaigns – you’ll see an increase in robocalls. Because for seven cents, why the hell not? It’s the same logic you use when buying a beefy Fritos burrito from Taco Bell. You really don’t need any more food and frankly every time you refer to a Taco Bell beefy Fritos burrito as food, you really should be putting air quotes around the word food. Yet for $1.00, you’re losing money if you don’t get one.
So in this piece we compared robocalls to getting an STD on a toilet, the Kardasians, and a Taco Bell beefy Fritos burrito. So I think that speaks for itself.
(Photo Credits: Wikipedia, E! Online, Taco Bell)