Email for President! Read Rates and the First GOP Debate

There are more than 400 days remaining until the 2016 presidential election and candidates are already jockeying hard for position. In the crowded Republican field, currently rife with no fewer than 17 candidates, the race is really heating up. On August 6, Fox News hosted the first debate, an event that drew a record 24 million viewers.

When the debate was over, the candidates rushed back to their bases to claim victory, while pollsters set out making predictions about who would be the new frontrunner. Polls can be an effective way to measure interest, but here at Return Path, we stake our bets on email. We looked at read rates and deleted without reading rates for each of the top candidates to judge just how well subscribers think they did during the debate.

For the purposes of this study, we decided to include the top five Republican candidates as scored by numerous political polls, including but not limited to the aggregated poll results page curated by Huffington Post. We then gathered data from our Consumer Network of over 2 million inboxes to note trends before and after the debate.

Note: We decided to include Carly Fiorina, who was included in the earlier—many viewed as the lesser—of the two GOP debates, and who some deemed the winner of the entire night. For more on what the pundits had to say, take a look here and here.

Gauging voter interest
Read rate is good indicator of interest from a candidate’s potential voter base. That’s because it is reasonable to assume that the majority of individuals requesting email from a given candidate desire correspondence in the first place, even though an earlier Return Path analysis of candidate messages showed that many of the candidate messages are being sent to spam. As a point of reference, read rates for consumer retail emails (think Nordstrom, J.Crew, or Best Buy) average at about 22%.

Prior to the first GOP debate, Donald Trump was the runaway email opens champion with more than 35% of his emails being read. On the other hand, Marco Rubio struggled just to break 10%. That means for every 1,000 Rubio supporters who subscribed to his email list, only 100 were opening emails, and even fewer were clicking through and donating to the campaign.

Chart 1: Read Rates

Election 1

Gauging voter disillusionment
An interesting phenomenon exists in the world of email marketing. Sometimes subscribers sign up for email, then decide they don’t particularly care to read email from that sender. However, instead of unsubscribing from the list (a generally easy process these days), individuals simply delete the emails each time they find them in the inbox. The “delete without reading (DwR)” rate indicates the percentage of emails received in the inbox, but which are deleted without being opened or read. For political campaigns, this can indicate waning interest in once-engaged supporters.

Going into the debate, Carly Fiorina had the highest DwR rate and Marco Rubio had the lowest. Following our logic, that means Carly’s crowd was fine with receiving emails, but had no real interest in seeing what they had to say. That could mean donation dollars lost. Not ideal for a candidate who was already on the ropes. Conversely, Marco Rubio looked to have a highly engaged subscriber base, meaning those who wanted to hear from Marco really wanted to be in the know.

Immediately after the debate, subscribers stopped ignoring Fiorina as her DwR dipped dramatically from 14% to 7%. Meanwhile Rubio’s subscribers began ignoring his messages as his DwR climbed from 2% to 10%. Now, there are many possible explanations for such an occurrence. The media was certainly lavishing praise upon the Fiorina camp, while Marco seemed only to hold on to his position as a “Top 5” candidate. Nothing to write home about, which is probably a good thing, because it looks like nobody wanted to read it.

Nevertheless, Carly’s post-debate bump appears to have only been temporary. Her most recent campaigns have been met with more than one in five subscribers simply not paying attention. And again, that could result in cash being left on the table.

Chart 2: Deleted without Reading Rates

Election 2

*Scott Walker was not included in the DwR analysis

As candidates vie for attention, it’s possible that true audience sentiment may be more accurately portrayed in a more intimate medium—the inbox. Here’s where the contestants stand according to Return Path’s inbox data:

  • Donald Trump: Love him or hate him, when it comes to email, he is all but crushing the competition.
  • Marco Rubio has a big problem: open rates remain low and DwR (disinterest) is increasing.
  • Jeb Bush is middle of the road in every way.
  • Ben Carson has seen a sustained increase in read rates since the debate, which corresponds with some polls showing him ahead of Jeb Bush.
  • Carly Fiorina has pundits decrying  her relegation to the “happy hour”’ debate and calling for her presence at the main event GOP debate on September 16, but our research shows waning interest in Fiorina’s messages.

We will be watching intently as the GOP frontrunners go at each other once again and provide post-debate analysis with all the email stats you can handle!

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