's column "
Bush vs. Kerry: Email Newsletters Rated
," written November 7, 2004.
Once again, the candidate who
scored highest on usability guidelines
won the U.S. presidential election. (I did a similar comparison when Clinton defeated Dole; he also followed more usability guidelines on his website during the later parts of that campaign.)
Although I don't actually claim that Bush won purely because of usability, I do think that wise use of email newsletters contributed to his victory. I analyzed the email newsletters sent out by both candidates in
the week prior to the election
. The predominant theme of each message was distributed as follows:
Get Out the Vote
(I didn't count the message each candidate sent on or just before Election Day asking recipients for their vote.)
As this analysis shows, Kerry supporters were bombarded by repeated fundraising requests, to the extent that many of them probably tuned out the newsletter in the final critical days. Although the Internet is great for collecting money from the masses, there is a limit. Kerry exceeded it.
Bush sent more messages than Kerry asking supporters to get
voters to go to the polls and vote for him. This is a more appropriate use of the newsletter medium because it
connects emotionally with subscribers
. Being treated as an active participant in the civics process is more motivating than being regarded as an open wallet.
Bush also repeatedly sent out information that promoted himself and attacked his opponent in relation to current events (such as Osama bin Laden's video). This is a good strategy: offering newsworthy content makes subscribers more likely to continue opening newsletters. Up-to-the-minute arguments are a classic use of email and gave Bush's supporters fodder in their get-out-the-vote efforts, thus reinforcing the newsletter's value in getting voters to the polls.
A post-election newsletter from the Bush campaign estimated that their subscribers contacted 15 million other voters in person or by phone in the 72 hours before the polls closed.
In summary, Kerry used his newsletter to
during the final week. Bush used his to
increase voter turnout
, and he won because he was better at turning out his base. Understanding the strength of email newsletters thus directly contributed to Bush's victory, so his Internet team can claim some credit for the outcome.