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Presidential Campaigns Find Texting Key In Getting Out The Vote


Compared to Twitter, text messaging is practically ancient technology. But the campaigns for president have found that texting is actually a key tool for getting in touch with supporters and getting out the vote. NPR's Scott Detrow covers technology trends in the campaign, and he joins us now to look at what's new with texting and politics. Hi, Scott.


SIEGEL: The Iowa caucuses are just a week away, and I imagine the campaigns are doing everything they possibly can to get people to turn out at caucus.

DETROW: That's right. They're calling people, they're knocking on their doors, they're blasting them with TV ads, with social media ads. But more and more than previous elections, you're seeing campaigns really focus on text messages as a key way to contact voters as well. Let's take the Clinton campaign. Before every single Hillary Clinton rally, you'll hear a volunteer get on stage and say something along these lines.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And this will sign you up for text message alerts from the campaign, so you'll be some of the first people to hear when Hillary's back in town and you'll know exactly where and when to caucus on February 1.

DETROW: So they're asking people to turn over their phone numbers to the campaign. And then from that point forward, they're sending a constant stream of information to these voters, providing information like future events and where to caucus, but also asking for money, things like that.

SIEGEL: Now campaigns have been texting for several years now. What's new this time?

DETROW: Well, increasingly, many campaigns see text messages as a primary way of getting in touch with voters. You know, more and more people are ditching landlines, more and more younger voters just have a lot of conversations on text and hardly ever call people.

SIEGEL: Or use e-mail, for that matter.

DETROW: That's right. E-mail is antiquated for a lot of young people. And many people access the Internet primarily through their phones. So because of that, a lot of campaigns are thinking hard about how to make these text message blasts seem like real conversations, real one-on-one conversations, which studies have shown are more effective at persuading people. So the Clinton campaign will do things like send out quizzes about Hillary Clinton trivia to people. They'll text out pictures and memes, like you might have in a text conversation with your friends. And we've seen some signs that this is working. We found a Clinton supporter named Nicole Calise at an Iowa rally explaining why she had shown up that day.

NICOLE CALISE: You know, I just thought - this morning, I got a text message, I thought you know what? I want to see her, so let's just try it.

DETROW: Didn't plan on being at the rally, but got a text and she's there. And the Sanders campaign actually has volunteers sitting in Iowa sending individual texts to individual Iowans, so they're really having one-on-one conversations to try and foster that feeling instead of a blast message.

SIEGEL: So how important do you think texting will become next Monday?

DETROW: Well, think about the fact that it's really only a small percentage of registered voters in Iowa who are going to show up at caucus. We're talking 100,000, 200,000, somewhere around there on both sides. So it really puts a premium on finding those people you've identified as likely supporters, getting in touch with them, and rounding them up to get to the caucus sites. So text will be a big part of that. That's a way to get in touch with someone right there, you know they have their phone on them. And the Clinton campaign is actually tapping into some social science research here. They have been asking supporters to provide to the campaign a specific plan on how they'll caucus that day - what time they plan to leave, where they plan to go, how they're going to get there. And the campaign says it's planning on actually texting out that specific plan to voters as a way to kind of jog their memory and remind them they have committed to do this.

SIEGEL: Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Detrow, who covers technology and politics.


DRAKE: (Singing) And I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing. I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing. Ever since I left the city you got a reputation for yourself now. Everybody knows and I feel left out. Girl, you got me down, you got me stressed out 'cause ever since I left the city you started wearing less and going out more. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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