In social media age, campaigns still need the mail

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Some of the mailers sent out opposing and supporting the candidates for New York's 7th Senate District, Elaine Phillips and Anna Kaplan. (Photo by Luke Torrance)

According to a Nielsen report, the average American spends 10 hours each day looking at a screen, which includes televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones.

But campaign workers said that often the best way to reach voters was with technology older than computers, television and even the radio: through the mail.

“With direct mailers, you can target down to the person,” said Kim Devlin, the campaign manager for Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who is running for re-election in the 3rd Congressional District.

Former Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman said there was no better way to reach voters.

“I think an intelligent direct mail campaign is the best way to get people’s attention,” he said. “If you do an intelligent campaign that is thought out and continuous — not just one thing, but a campaign that hits on two or three things — that’s very effective.”

There has certainly been no shortage of mailers, as North Shore residents can attest. While most major candidates have sent out something in the mail, the most sustained campaign of mailers has come in the race for the state’s 7th Senate District, where incumbent state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) is looking to fend off a challenge from Democratic Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan.

Mailers from the candidates’ campaigns and political action committees have flooded mailboxes, touting the records of their candidate while attacking the opponent’s record on gun control or taxes.

“Elaine Phillips had the chance to prevent the next school shooting,” read one mailer from the Empire States 32BJ SEIU PAC in big, bold letters. “But she failed us.”

According to state records, the SEIU PAC has spent nearly $100,000 on anti-Phillips mailers.

“Anna Kaplan loves taking money from your family!” read a mailer from the New York Republican State Committee.

Weitzman said mailers are popular because they can be sent only to voters who would consider voting for a candidate.

“It’s much more effective than television, where you have to pay for everybody to see it when you only want a certain a percentage of them to see it,” he said.

But he said he was concerned that only reaching voters who would vote for a certain candidate might increase polarization in a country that feels more polarized than ever.

“People who don’t vote your way, they won’t see your campaign,” he said.

Weitzman said that campaigns are more negative now than they were a decade ago, a fact he attributes to the increase in money from political action committees like the Empire States 32BJ SEIU PAC.

While people of every political stripe will see campaign ads on television, he said he was unsure if this was more effective than mailers. What he did know was that it is undoubtedly more expensive.

“There is no question that they’re being used, and that would be an indication they’re effective,” he said. “But you also see a proliferation of campaign signs in yards, and everything I ever saw said the signs didn’t work. But they do it every campaign.”

One reason that social media advertising has become so popular, Weitzman said, is because it is relatively inexpensive.

“That’s what they want to do, reach as many people as possible at the lowest possible cost,” he said.

Devlin said that the Suozzi campaign has focused on digital ads in 2018, which she described as a combination of social media and mailers.

“I wouldn’t describe it as the strategy has changed, it has evolved to match where the people are at,” she said. “Digital ads are the best of both worlds.”

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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