How Much Will Text Message Donations Really Help The Obama Campaign?
Can President Obama’s re-election campaign use the new FEC ruling on political donations via text message to help them regain the fundraising crown next month? Small donors have only given the Obama re-election effort $88 million dollars through April of this year.
The recent Federal Elections Commission ruling will allow cell phone users to text donations to the presidential candidate they support . “Text OBAMA to 900091” and “Reply YES to donate $5 to Obama Campaign – must be legal US resident over 18 years of age” will soon be a reality of the presidential campaign season by as soon as the end of this month. The Obama campaign staff demonstrated back in 2008 an unusual ability to seamlessly incorporate new developments like this one into their overall fundraising strategy, giving them a distinct advantage over the McCain campaign. The Romney campaign, by contrast, is much better equipped to match the Obama campaign’s efforts in areas like this. Even though the small donors this development is aimed at are not a priority for the Romney team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them reap a substantial haul from this channel.
A lot of people are already citing the $35 million in text message donations that were raised for victims of the earthquake in Haiti back in 2010 as evidence that the President Obama is poised to raise tens of millions of dollars through this channel, but that doesn’t seem very realistic for several reasons. Large scale text message giving is usually prompted by an intense emotional response to an unanticipated event. If anything, the Obama campaign managers have gone out of their way to avoid fostering the visceral sense of urgency about re-electing Barack Obama you need to feel in your gut in order to be motivated enough to whip out your phone and send a political campaign of $5 or $10 or $20 dollars.
Text-to-donate’s success will largely be tied to campaign’s willingness to integrate a short code/donation ask into television advertising. One recent study found that only an estimated 1.5% of the roughly 10 billion dollars spent in political advertising this year will be spent online. The estimated 6.6+ billion spent on television ads could bring in money from voters sitting on their couches watching television while texting on their smartphones.
There are analytical progressives who are on the internet right now trying to figure out what percentage of a text message donation would actually get to the president’s campaign instead of being excited about what this development could mean in terms of new donor sources. Others are irritated at the idea that they might receive a message from the president’s campaign for which they will be billed, an issue for people who don’t have text message packages that Obama staffers need to take into consideration. A few supporters have cut directly to the chase – “where am I supposed to be getting the money to make these donations?”
I think the situation these text message donations present to the Obama campaign’s fundraising gurus, if they are looking for the kind of momentum that makes the difference between a winning and a losing effort, basically boils down to this—can they generate enough intensity in their campaign to get 20 million people to donate $10 each via text message in the next 12 weeks?
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.