Email for President: The Second GOP Debate

The race for the White House thus far has been altogether exciting, frustrating, and certainly entertaining and email metrics provide a great scoreboard to follow the action. Since the first GOP debate in August, the crowd of 17 has shrunk with notable exits by former Texas governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

In our first post, we defined a couple of key indicators of how well candidates are reaching the public through email: read rates and deleted-without-reading (DwR) rates. (For clarification we also refer to DwR rates as ignore rates.) For the purpose of this analysis, we compared moving averages of these indicators for the weeks prior to, week of, and weeks following the second GOP debate, which took place on September 16.

The devil is in the details, but these indicators suggest that after their second debate the Trump campaign is losing steam, Jeb is picking it up, Carly might be more hype than substance, and Marco is hanging on by a thread.

Read rates
Read rates can be an indicator of true engagement between a candidate and his or her likely voter/donor base. Among the top five Republican frontrunners, read rates have fluctuated wildly since the first GOP debate. Some trends are now emerging that confirm what pollsters and pundits have been shouting, but other trends call into question the accuracy of those claims:

  • Donald Trump was the undisputed leader in read rates prior to the debate, but has since fallen behind Jeb Bush (we were just as surprised as you are) and rising star Carly Fiorina.
  • Although several national polls show Ben Carson in second place, the former pediatric surgeon experienced a significant decline in read rates after the debate.
  • Carly Fiorina is holding steady with very healthy read rates. (As a reminder, average read rates for consumer retail email sits at about 22%.)

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The Bush campaign has been using a combination of subject lines to attract attention (and high read rates) since the debate ended. Here are the top three and their associated read rates:

  • And so it begins (26%)
  • Is this accurate? (41%)
  • Deal expires at midnight (36%)

Contrary to claims made by Donald Trump, email engagement data suggest that Jeb might be the true voice for the silent majority.

Ignore rates
We view the rate at which subscribers delete emails without reading them as a sign of ignoring the sender. An increasing DwR or Ignore rate can be an early indicator of subscriber attrition. First, we stop reading email, then we get annoyed by the clutter, then we unsubscribe (or just hit “this is spam” if it’s easier).

Turning to the chart, Carly Fiorina has been the leader in Ignore rates for some time now, and her numbers continue to climb. Although there are several possible explanations for the rise in Ignore rates, it is likely that the excitement Fiorina generated coming out of the first debate enticed some into subscribing for the campaign, but a lack of interest is now causing those same subscribers to simply delete the emails they are receiving. This speaks to how crucial it is for candidates to not only attract new, likely voters, but also to segment email lists and send messages that keep the base highly engaged.

Unlike Carly, Jeb’s campaign is seeing a nice trend. As read rates have increased, Ignore rates have decreased. This seems to indicate the Bush campaign is doing a better job of targeting and acquiring an engaged group of subscribers.


With Rick Perry and Scott Walker both out of money and out of the race, it begs the question: who is next? Email is one of the most important channels that candidates can harness to get their message out to the masses and request donations. Marco Rubio does not have a significant war chest (a recent report by Forbes put his net worth at about $100,000), which means grassroots efforts are essential to the viability of his campaign. Unfortunately, with read rates holding steady at abysmally low levels and Ignore rates climbing higher, the senator from Florida could soon find himself back home thinking about the campaign that might have been.

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