Email & the UK Election: Are Voters Engaging?

In the first part of my series on Email & the UK Election, we looked at the deliverability challenges faced by political party email programs. Factors such as sign-up processes, sender reputation, and authentication practices, all influence delivery rates, and we saw which programs are achieving best placement. We also calculated the real financial impact to the parties of poor deliverability performance.

In Part 2 we consider how subscribers are engaging with their emails. This is important because mailbox providers use this data to determine whether senders look like good actors or not. Positive actions (retrieved from spam, forwarded to another recipient, etc.) are regarded more favourably than negative actions (marked as spam, deleted unread, etc.) This plays a role in their inbox placement/positioning decisions.

Political commentators reckon it’s been a pretty negative election campaign so far, and this word cloud shows some of the key email themes we’ve seen recently.


Not much positive sentiment there, so how are subscribers engaging? We’ve analysed data from Return Path’s Inbox Insight competitor intelligence solution to get some key learnings.

Engagement Benchmarks

All the programs are generating “Excellent” or “Above Average” engagement benchmarks. These are a composite of the individual engagement metrics we monitor – think of them like a Sender Score, but for engagement rather than deliverability.


Clearly, program members are highly engaged – both politically, and as email subscribers. That said, we’ve seen signs of election fatigue as the final week approaches – more about this later.

Positive Sentiment ≠ Positive Engagement

We categorized common keywords by whether they conveyed a positive tone (“Good”, “Happy”, “Secure”, etc.) or negative tone (“Chaos”, “Destroy”, “Fighting”, etc.) and whether this impacts engagement.

However, it’s good not to overdo it. The Conservative party learnt with their “Competence or Chaos” message after a television debate. This broadcast – sent to their full list – generated an extraordinary 7.6% complaint rates. Suppressing these complainers will have decimated the Tories email database!At face value subscribers appear to engage slightly more positively when sentiments are also positive. However, ISP-Marked Spam rates are substantially lower for both approaches (Neutral = 100). As spam filtering reflects individual-level behaviors, this may suggest positive and negative sentiment are both good engagement drivers.

Which Themes Are Resonating?

The economy and immigration are getting blanket press coverage, this isn’t reflected in the email channel.


Here, themes have been more event-based as TV debates and manifesto releases came and went. Tax is clearly the front-of-mind “single issue” topic as measured by Read rates, while Danny Boyle was clearly onto something when he positioned the NHS as the centerpiece of the Olympic opening ceremony – these emails receiving highly sympathetic treatment from spam filters.

Short is Sweet

Senders have clearly been told to keep subject lines short and snappy for mobile readers. Subject line length has averaged around 20 characters.


This approach is spot-on – emails with shorter subject lines are getting better Read rates and lower complaint rates. However, longer subject lines perform better getting retrieved from the spam folder. It may be that having more detail plays a positive role here.

Less is More

Some campaigns have taken subject line brevity to extremes, resembling the song list for a grunge album: “Tonight”; “Disgraceful”; “Reasons”; “Breathtaking” !


Senders need to be careful of overdoing this approach. Our analysis shows 5 words generate the optimal Read rates. More than this sees engagement tailing off, while spam filtering increases sharply.

Put a name on it

A clearly defined trend is political subscribers want to be spoken to as individuals. We analysed campaigns with both personalized and generic segments:


Read rates are markedly higher when recipients are referenced by name, and this engagement uplift also shows in significantly lower ISP-Marked spam rates.

Make it about me

Subscribers are also more receptive when the email conversation is addressed to them. We categorized campaigns as First-Person (“Join me”, I’m amazed”), Second-Person (“Answers for you”, “Your tax cut”), Third-person (“Those who work hard”, “Their advantage”) or neutral.


Political subscribers clearly don’t like it when politicians just talk about themselves. Emails presented in the first-person generate lowest Read rates, and highest levels of spam filtering!

Keep it inclusive

Subscribers clearly want to be part of the political process. We tagged keywords we deemed as indicating inclusiveness (“Join”, “Invite”, “Choice”, etc.).


Emails that impart a sense of inclusiveness generate higher Read rates, and significantly lower User-Marked spam rates. Filtering is also lower when a more inclusive tone of voice is employed.

Who’s leading the popularity stakes?

Many campaigns reference party leaders by name. We used this to plot who’s generating the most positive interactions!


Perhaps unsurprisingly, Read rates of emails featuring SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon trounce all other contenders. This also reflects a broader trend of smaller party leaders generating more positive engagement than their mainstream counterparts. Conversely, emails referencing David Cameron (Conservatives) and Ed Miliband (Labour) are more likely to be deleted unread!

Party leaders should also remember to be authentic. When asked if Ed Miliband was tough enough to be prime minister, his response was “Hell, yes!”. His email team quickly re-purposed this quote into a campaign (subject line “HELL YES”) – a full third of the emails landed in the spam folder! Ed isn’t really a “Hell, yes!” kind of guy, and this “engagement bomb” proved the point.

Election Fatigue

One downside of email being such a highly effective channel (£38 in ROI per a recent DMA report) is the temptation to flog it for all it’s worth. Every will in this election, and parties will be chasing them to the bitter end.


This last chart recommends caution. Over the past 30-days, Read rates declined week-on-week, and filtering rates increased as subscribers show signs of election fatigue. Parties should beware of killing the golden email goose as they head into the home straight.

In summary

Each element in this blog post represents an Email Optimization opportunity. Program owners can leverage learnings like these to boost their email performance and drive up ROI. Learn more about how to leverage Return Path’s data, tools, and expertise to optimize your program by visiting our website. Also download our recently published report on Subject Line Optimization.

Finally, watch for Part 3 of this series – we’ll look at what other senders are in the political party supporters’ inboxes, and what we can learn about their profiles using this intelligence.



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