Text Message Marketing for Political Campaigns

Published on August 1, 2017

Did you get Pete’s text?


This casual, friendly text (complete with cute doggo pics) was part of Pete Buttigieg’s text message marketing for his political campaign.

He is not the only one who is using texting in his political campaigns. 

Warren, Sanders, Biden, Harris, and almost every other candidate who is running for the Presidential primary are using text messaging as an integral part of their campaign strategy. 

Interestingly, 45% of the text messages were a direct donation ask.

Since fundraising is a major goal in the initial stages of every political campaign, this was a fantastic way to meet the campaign goals. 

However, what happens when the next phase of the campaign strategy comes in?

With the Iowa caucuses starting in a mere month, every one of the candidates have to rally support. 

Once they get nominated, they have to ensure that they win the support of the electorate – to be elected as the President.

Text message marketing can be used effectively in each of these stages! It has excellent reach, is simple to use, and more importantly can incite voters to act!

In this post we will look at how text messages can be used in political campaigns to support a winning campaign strategy.  

Before we jump to the use-cases, I would first like to address certain overwhelming questions around text message marketing in the political context. 

What does text message marketing mean for political campaigns ?

Text message marketing involves the use of SMS texts for communication. It could be with your voter base. It could also be communication between campaign staff/volunteers. 

All campaigns start with an opt in procedure where voters essentially consent to receiving messages from you.

This is usually a sign-up form on the campaign website or a keyword to be texted to a number. Once a person has opted in, the campaign has permission to reach out to them via texts.

YES! You can legally send text messages to your voters, as long as the texts are sent manually and are not automated. 

That is if a volunteer is sending out texts one at a time by manually hitting send each time, then it is definitely legal. 

Automated bulk SMS are also legal only if your contacts have consented to receive those texts from you. 

Giving consent can mean:

  1. The voters text in with a keyword to the shortcode you advertise
  2. They click on the ‘I agree’ button on your website/ email
  3. Your supporters/constituents sign up during an event or a rally

In any of the above scenario, the voters agree to receiving text message communication from you. So sending them automated texts is definitely legal. 

Now that you know getting consent is the only legal way of sending automated texts, let us see how to go about it. 

The first step is building an SMS list with voters who opt-in to receiving texts from you. This opt-in signals their consent. Here are some excellent strategies to use:

1. The direct ask

Tell your voters that you are sending out information about your campaign and your rallies via text messages. To receive such information they have to opt-in by texting a keyword to a short code. 

Bernie Sanders strategy for such a direct ask was hugely successful in the 2016 campaign. 


His opt-in code was advertised during all house events and rallies. In an event where 100,000 supporters attended, his campaign received 50,000 opt-ins to the short code 82623. That is a 50% opt-in rate – a huge win for his campaign!

2. The information ask

Those voters who text in to receive updates about your campaign are most definitely your supporters. 

How can you get your non-supporters to opt-in? They are not interested in your campaign updates and will not opt-in for such a direct ask. 

You can encourage them to sign up by giving them a strong incentive.

The best example for this can be credited to Obama’s 2008 campaign. 


It was called the most important text message in history! By using such a powerful incentive, Obama had more than 3 million voters sign up to receive the update he promised. 

By promising information that everyone would find interesting (and not just his supporters), Obama just got his non-supporters’ consent to sending texts!

3. Issue based ask

A more interesting (and nuanced) way of receiving consent is to encourage your voters to communicate with you via text messages. 

Let me give you an Obama example again:


The campaign had a tremendous response rate because the voters had an opportunity to talk directly to the President!

For the campaign it was a hit as they could clearly segregate voters based on their interests – all those who texted in were those who cared about student loans.

To build the SMS list for your campaign, you can use a combination of all these three methods. Just ensure that you advertise the keyword and shortcode so that the voters know to sign up for your campaign!

How can you use text message marketing in your political campaigns?

Once you have built a solid SMS list, you can start engaging the voters with text messages.

Traditionally text messages were used rather like every other channel of communication – a one way street where voters were blasted with information.

Like TV or radio, it was just one more channel to reach the voters (albeit a much faster one).

However, the core advantage of texting campaigns is the genuine back and forth conversation they facilitate.

That is, your voter can take action immediately – it could be clicking on a link you send or simply sending in a response to your text.

Such a fundamental change in communication has changed the way campaigns look at text messages. Instead of passively engaging the voters with reminders and notification, they started using it to get a response.

Here is a comparison of how text messages are used today (vs. how they were used before).

S.no.Traditional UsageUsage Now
1.Reminders to votersCollect more data about voters
2.Bulk communication with staffRun opinion polls
3.Generic event updatesManage events using SMS
4.Campaign updates Organize volunteers using SMS

This does not mean that campaigns do not use text messages for traditional use-cases (i.e for bulk communication with staff.) It just means that they are able to do more!

For instance, instead of merely sending event updates, campaigns are also using text messages for managing an entire event!

Let us look at each of these use-cases in detail.

1. Collecting voter details

With every opt-in campaign that you run, there is only one voter detail that you collect for sure. That is their phone number. Yes, you also get their consent to receive text messages. 

But these meagre details do not really allow for sending targeted messages. That is, say 100 supporters opt-in to your campaign. Now if you want to invite these supporters to a rally, you will send a bulk SMS to everyone on the list. 

This strategy won’t be as effective because it will not be relevant to those supporters who are not in the same area as the rally!

Now if you had a bit more information on each of these supporters, you could ensure that only those who could attend the rally got the message.

That is where the evolution of text messaging has helped tremendously. Since supporters are willing to text back, you can easily ask them for more information when they opt in and thus collect data!

Take a look at how Bernie collects information on his supporters:


In one simple stroke they now have a geographic location to assign to each supporter.

Now if Bernie needs to invite his supporters for a rally, he can use the zipcode to invite only those supporters who will find it relevant. 

For your campaign, instead of asking for the zipcode, you can ask any information that is crucial to you. 

2. Sending Campaign Updates

Engaging your supporters with regular campaign updates is crucial in keeping them interested in your campaign. Here is an example of how Warren does this for her 2020 US Presidential Primary:


Notice that these text messages do not request a response. However, they do encourage action with a link to click on. 

To make the updates even more powerful you can make them relevant to the current political scenario. That is, they can be in response to the democratic debate that was just held, or a rally conducted by opposition. 

These texts can be used to contrast your candidacy and stance against that of the opposition and thus be used to win over swing voters!

Here are some ideas on what you can send to your voters as regular campaign updated:

  • Convey what stance your candidate is taking in a relevant or recent issue
  • Alert voters about media appearances
  • Make fundraising appeals
  • Campaign announcements on milestones achieved etc.

Unlike conventional text messaging, modern platforms allow you to send out thousands of text messages in the span of a few seconds. Each message can be personalized.

Personalization does not just mean knowing your supporters name!

With tags like {first_name} , it is quite easy to fill up and can be automated. In fact your supporters know it and expect it!

Personalization, in this context, means sending the right message at the right time. That is if you want to inform your supporters about an upcoming rally you have to send them the text when they are most likely to open it. 

This extent of personalization is difficult to achieve for some campaigns mainly because of the practical difficulties. As in, it will be quite difficult to find volunteers to send messages at say 10:30 pm on a weekend!

That is where a texting platform (like CallHub) can help. You can simply create the campaign and schedule it to go out at the most optimal time. 

In case your supporters text back, those responses can be handled automatically with a keyword. That is, for those who respond with a Y (a yes) and are willing to attend the rally, you can send out a thank you text.


Ultimately, you are still using a mass texting campaign. However, you are tweaking it a bit to suit the audience who are willing to engage (and respond) via texts.

3. Run opinion polls

Opinion polls help you understand the pulse of your supporters/voter group. It tells you (and your campaign) how the voters feel about your stance on various issues, whether they relate to your policy, etc.

Running opinion polls via text messages is easy. Once you have built the subscriber base, all you have to do is set up a mass texting campaign. 

As with the above example, you have to set up automated responses to each of the replies you can receive. 

Here is how a sample survey can look like:


Notice that the survey asks for an opt-in too! That is the first SMS that is sent to the list asks them if they would be interested in participating in a survey. 

The follow up questions go out to only those who are willing. This will ensure that the quality of your responses are good. To the voters, it just provides a better experience!

4. Manage rallies and events

In each one of the above scenarios the SMS responses and questions were all automated. You had a volunteer set up the campaign and it was sent out at the click of a button. 

Such automated texts are an excellent way to engage your voters while spending minimal volunteer time. 

However, there are two scenarios where automated texts simply won’t work:

  • When you do not have consent to send automated texts to the voter
  • When you have a high-barrier ask (attend an event, participate in a rally)

For both these cases you need a volunteer individually reach out to each supporter. Texting platforms like CallHub enable such personal one to one conversations by peer to peer texting

Since the volunteer manually types the sms and hits ‘send’ each time, it is perfectly legal to send these texts.

For the voters, since they are having an actual human conversation, they are more encouraged to say yes. 

“It breaks down a lot of barriers. People think, ‘Oh, this is a real-life person who’s donating their time.”

Linda Hill, volunteer, Build a wave campaign

A volunteer can initiate as many as 2500 chats (or conversations) in under an hour. So it is not as time consuming as you think. Given the overwhelming advantages vs. the relatively less time cost, peer to peer texting for rallies and event invitation is a definite plus.

Here is an example of how a conversation can go:


5. Organize volunteers 

Volunteer organizing with text messaging works somewhat similar to event management. Only here, you are inviting supporters to volunteer for your event rather than a generic appeal for event attendees.

Because it is such a huge commitment by the volunteer, sending in just an SMS will not be enough. In this case, you have to encourage participation across channels (eg. email and SMS).

For such a multi-channel engagement, you have to sync your texting platform with a CRM or a voter management tool. Based on how the voter responds to each text you send, a relevant email can be triggered in the CRM.

  • First, you send out an event invite via text message. Based on how subscribers RSVP to your invitation, you can start a drip SMS marketing campaign. 
  • A separate drip campaign in email can be triggered for those who replied in the affirmative. 
  • A series of reminder and inspiring appeals can be sent to those who have either not responded or said no. 

Using a field organizing tool like marriagehero.org together with CallHub can be of huge help here. You can run your RSVP campaign on CallHub to identify interested volunteers. Here is how the initial text can look:


 Now, you can start your drip campaign on marriagehero.org for all those supporters who have replied with YES.

Everytime a volunteer responds positively via SMS, the software recognizes the keyword and triggers the next stage of keyword in the drip campaign. 

For instance, if the volunteer agrees to participate, then he can be sent instructions via email. Simultaneously, an SMS can also be sent, asking for confirmation if the email has been read. 

Remember that your applications have to be well synced with each other to achieve seamless transfer of data from one to another. 

Such a refined and mature approach to volunteer recruitment will improve your event attendance and participation.

6. Send GOTV reminders 

All your campaign efforts finally boils down to the last few days of the election – where you have to encourage voters to show their support. 

If they do not turn up to vote, then them supporting your stance will be immaterial. It is proven that SMS has a 1% influence over other channels of GOTV efforts (Some organizations have as high as 7% more voter-turn out because of their GOTV efforts). 

Here are a few ways you can encourage your supporters to turn up to the polls:

  • Send out reminders to register to vote
  • Guide people how to register
  • Provide information on where the polling booth is located
  • Reinforce on election day your campaign objectives

GOTV efforts are particularly crucial in close races where you need all your strong supporters to definitely turn up. In this case, running an exclusive peer to peer texting campaigns for them can increase turn out. 


You can of course always run regular broadcast SMS campaigns and mass texting campaigns to let your supporters know about polling information. 

Can text message marketing for political campaigns backfire?

Remember that your voters are being bombarded with information on all channels (and not just SMS). Also, you can be sure that your opposition is using SMS just as much as you are. So it is quite possible that your voters are tired of the frequent updates. 


Another way your SMS campaigns can backfire, is if you do not handle the responses right. 


Both the above disasters can be avoided if you use a dependable texting platform that is synced with your CRM. 

A platform like CallHub can help you automatically handle responses. Since the responses will be based on a keyword, the chances of the voter receiving a unrelated response to their message, are minimal. 

A tight integration with a CRM will help you send messages based on the voter’s responses (or actions). Thus it will not be perceived as spam and the voters would be more interested in engaging with your messages. 

So all the best with your political campaign! I hope you use text message marketing to help you win!