Text Messages & Targeted Ads Fly in Alabama

Polling Place

Tuesday is the day: Alabama will choose either Republican Roy Moore or Democrat Doug Jones to take the Senate seat Jeff Sessions abandoned to become U.S. Attorney General. Moore’s repellant past has dominated the national discussion about the race, but victory or defeat will come down a simple, local dynamic: who turns out to vote.

With that in mind, Democrats aren’t skimping on the Get Out The Vote operation: the Jones campaign and liberal groups are working desperately to encourage Alabama’s overwhelmingly Democratic black voters to go to the polls, regardless of past disappointment and present voter suppression. Cell phones will play a big role:

And in a bid to laser-target black voters, Mr. Jones’s campaign has bought a huge file of cellphone numbers for African-Americans, which it plans to use for a get-out-the-vote appeal via text message, two people familiar with the plan said.

Outside organizations can play at this game, too:

A group called Open Progress is funding a large text message campaign with African-Americans. A nonpartisan group called the Voter Participation Center is reaching over 300,000 black voters here with direct mail and text messages.

These mass text campaigns actually don’t involve blast-texting a purchased list. Instead, organizers will use peer-to-peer tools to streamline the process of having volunteers individually text voters to exhort them to go to the polls. Since a person sends each message individually, these platforms avoid the restrictions on blast-texts. Word on the street is that Doug Jones is using Hustle, while Open Progress has developed its own technology to achieve similar ends [Update: I’ve heard Open Progress is using a tool called Relay].

Text messages are one of the few tools that have consistently boosted voter turnout (at least, in the tests I’ve heard of), and they’ll be particularly useful in reaching lower-income voters whose phones may be their only connection to the internet. Other targeted channels are also in play: Jones is advertising heavily on black-oriented radio stations and sending direct mail to Republican voters, and the campaign is running digital ads designed to encourage Republicans to follow Sen. Richard Shelby’s example and write in anyone but Moore.

Of course, Jones has been blitzing the airwaves too, but targeted targeted outreach can deliver specific messages to black Alabamans that might risk blowback from white voters if they were broadcast widely. Race is so much a part of politics in the South, though, that people will try to turn your targeting against you:

Some pro-Moore groups are taking an even more pointed approach to energize conservatives. One Moore-aligned group, Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC, is airing commercials on nearly 60 stations around the state accusing Jones of “trying to steal the election with vile, racist ads on black radio.”

“Desperate to steal this Senate race, Jones and his race-hustling allies are trying to start a race war and it’s only going to get worse in the final weekend, with millions of dollars in street money to turn out the vote,” it adds.

Race-hustling! Starting a race war! Incendiary language, so I’m assuming that “Godly Heritage” only extends as far as the Old Testament. Race, sex, religion and social class: this election has a little bit of everything explosive in American culture. Let’s hope Roy Moore’s career is the only thing that goes up in smoke tomorrow.


Written by
Colin Delany
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