Do robocalls actually work?

By Ryan Miner 


You just finished dinner with your family. The dishes are clean. The dog doesn’t need walked until at least 10:30 p.m. You pour yourself a 12-year-aged Scotch, plop down in your favorite leather chair and unwind by reading the newspaper that you couldn’t quite find time to read on your way out to work earlier this morning.

The phone rings. No, not your cell. Suspicion sets in. Who is calling my house, you ask, quizzically? Anxiety is now taking its toll. Nobody calls our house! We only have a house phone just in case – well in case – in case – of an emergency or if, God forbid, our cell service goes down. You pick up. “Hello, Sidney.” Panic. Perspiration. Just kidding.

“This is (insert the name of a local politician running for office) and I’m running for Congress. (Insert another familiar name) endorsed my candidacy and because of that, you should vote for me. My opponent is a Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins and donates to Spaghetti Monsters. Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, April 26! This call was paid for by BobWeHadaBabyitsABoy.”

“NOT ANOTHER ROBOCALL FROM A POLITICIAN,” you exclaim, with ferocious indignation. “Never voting for that guy/girl,” you think to yourself.

It’s campaign season. Candidates will send you mail, knock on your door, call you, track you down in the parking lot of Target, wave at you while holding a sign on the side of a busy intersection on your way to work, and, candidates will exercise all sorts of unconventional tactics to grab your attention in an effort to get you to vote for them!

But it seems like the most hated form of campaigning boils down to one word: robocalls. People hate robocalls! Pre-recorded messages to your home phone line. No! It’s a big no-no!

Some political candidates will do anything to spread a message. And some candidates will opt for robocalling. But just how effective is robocalling?

When political candidates determine the best return on their (sometimes meager, for some) investment, robocalls typically fall at the bottom of the list.

According to a Newsweek analysis on the effectiveness of political robocalls,

research indicates that whether they’re listened to or not, robocalls have no effect on voting habits.

Don Green, a political science professor at Yale, subjected robocalls to 12 randomized experiments for his 2004 book “Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout.” The results, he says, were revealing. “These calls never raise voter turnout. They have no mobilization effect, and no persuasion effect either. What matters is whether they change the probability of voting, and robo-calls have proven they do not.”

There is also the possibility of inflicting damage with robo-calls, particularly if they’re negative and overused. “You have to be very careful,” says John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who has researched negative politics. “They tend to be very micro-targeted, so you’re hopefully going after people who are open to the message you’re delivering. But if done too much, they can backfire.”

To reiterate the research of a Yale political science professor:

“Robocalls never raise voter turnout. They have no mobilization effect, and no persuasion effect either. What matters is whether they change the probability of voting, and robocalls have proven they do not.”

In 2012, Kim Fai Kok, a Growth and Marketer at Truecaller and a former Apple Marketer, conducted a survey regarding robocalls and campaign calls in the United States. To paraphrase his findings, according to the data he captured in his survey, “93% of all the recipients did NOT want campaign calls/robocalls, and if they had the chance to block the calls, 60% said they would.”

Moreover, one of our Kok’s recipients said this: “I was a campaign caller and many people would probably have wanted me to die if my company called them again. I know for a fact the computers that generated their numbers would sometimes generate the same numbers three or four times an hour.”

For a better understanding of the how voters react to robocalls, below is an infographic of Kok’s survey:


According to a prominent political fundraising company, Filpac, robocalls are some of the least effective means of campaigning to reach your target audience in a political campaign:

The way to influence voters is to reach them personally (and respectfully) with a message they’ll appreciate. Robocalling does neither.

Instead of reaching a fifth of your households for the bargain-basement price of $2,240, you’ve merely wasted that sum just to become a general nuisance to relatively few. When a person hears your robocall script, the message they’re hearing is that a) you don’t think enough of them to ask in person, and b) you think they’re dumb enough to act on a recorded message.

It’s disrespect on a grand scale.

I listed above only three examples of the negative effects of political robocalls; however, I could list more.

If you’re a candidate running for political office (e.g. a Republican in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District), and I receive your robocall – on my home phone, nonetheless – with a pre-recorded message announcing some grand endorsement you just received, you probably won’t have my vote, and I’ll probably assume you believe I’m an idiot to think I can’t make up my own my mind without the help of somebody else telling me who to vote for.

After all, there are several other and more effective outlets to spread a coherent political message, including, but not limited to, digital ads, “true IP” targeting,” mailers, social media ads, television, radio, and much, much more.

Say NO to robocalling, candidates. Robocalls don’t bring about the return you would expect, and the calls will only upset voters.

This message is brought to you by A Miner Detail.

Now hang up.

Ryan Miner Administrator
Ryan Miner is the Editor & Founder of A Miner Detail.

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