The only cost that outstrips mail is broadcast advertising, which is notoriously expensive and has been washing over swing states for months.
Direct mail is especially crucial for Romney, whose supporters skew older than Obama’s. Romney and the Republican National Committee have spent more than $100 million on mail costs, compared with about $70 million for Obama and the Democrats.
One typical Romney mailing to seniors in Florida pledges to “preserve and strengthen Medicare” with “no change in benefits for those in or near retirement.” It features an elderly couple and an older woman — all white — along with a picture of the Republican candidate and his wife, Ann.
“Florida Seniors CAN’T TRUST President Obama,” the brochure reads above a picture of the president looking rather grim. It continues in capital red letters: “BARACK OBAMA HAS FAILED OUR SENIORS.”
Richard Beeson, the Romney campaign’s political director, said that direct mail is a central part of the campaign’s outreach approach, which also includes digital strategies, phone canvassing and other methods aimed at engaging supporters.
“We are believers in voter contact,” Beeson said. “There’s a number of different ways to talk to voters, and the mail is one very effective way.”
Potent political force
The use of mass direct mail in politics stretches back at least as far as George S. McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, which deployed tactics perfected by the mail-order industry. The Religious Right movement of the 1980s married sophisticated voter lists with the reach of the U.S. Postal Service to become a potent political force.
Mailings are used to attack opponents, make policy promises, solicit donations and help supporters register to vote.
“The power of it is still huge because it’s reaching that age group that includes baby boomers, who are still largely more comfortable with direct mail than other, newer forms of communication,” said Paul Bobnak, research director for DirectMarketingIQ, a Philadelphia-based target marketing firm that tracks campaign mailings. “It is still a huge workhorse for political fundraising and messaging.”
In 2008, more than half the voters in the presidential race were 45 or older, according to exit polls. Those 65 or older went for Republican John McCain by 53 percent to 45 percent, while Obama ran about even with McCain among voters aged 45 to 64, the data show.