As America approached Election Day last week, millions of people were ambushed by political text messages, encouraging them to vote for a certain candidate or donate to various campaigns.
Thanks to a 2021 Supreme Court Decision, which ruled that consent did not need to be obtained before sending mass texts, the number of political texts being sent out nationwide is only increasing, despite the majority of Americans being fed up with these communications.
During the 2022 midterm elections, about 15 billion political text messages were sent out, according to Robokiller. This amounts to 50 text messages per cell phone in the country. Additionally, voters living in swing states are being hit the hardest with these messaging campaigns, according to the MIT Technology Review.
Political text messages are increasingly becoming a central part of candidates’ campaigns, much to the annoyance of most Americans. Campaigns utilize these messages to encourage donations, request votes and communicate volunteer opportunities. Per NBC News, the majority of texts are sent by Republican candidates, though Democrats have also sent out a significant amount of these messages.
Though most voters have no desire to receive political text messages, they’re often forced to because of data exchanges, which are immense databases of millions of American voters’ contact information.
These data exchanges are managed by brokers, who collect the data from public records before selling it off to various campaigns. Both major parties have an affiliated data broker company that they use to be able to contact voters. The vast majority of states have no laws restricting who is allowed to obtain voter data, so these companies have little difficulty in finding voter names, residences, party affiliations, voting histories and phone numbers.
The impact of these messages is felt around the nation, but not necessarily in a way that encourages voting or political participation. In 2022, the FCC reported that these messages made up the largest group of text complaints by far.
Villanova senior Emma Pankuck affirmed this apathy toward the texts’ messages and annoyance with their frequency.
“I feel like they’ve never once been influential,” Pankuck said. “It’s more just something that I see once and then delete.”
In addition, many of these text messages contain little substance or information and are more focused on using divisive or hyperbolic language to scare potential voters into supporting their campaign. A large number of these texts are focused on smearing opposing candidates or using urgent-sounding language to make circumstances appear more dire than they really are to play on voters’ emotions.
For example, lies in these messages have included misinformation about how to vote sent to Kansas voters before a major abortion referendum, a text claiming that Biden would send 87,000 IRS agents to close down churches and other critical-sounding donation requests.
Some messages also don’t reveal their sponsors or are linked to unknown organizations, further frustrating voters who are unable to see if these messages are from real campaigns or are simply fundraising scams.
Though millions of Americans have expressed their exasperation with these unwanted communications, the government refuses to do anything to actually curtail the amount of political spam being sent around.
There are few to no laws in place protecting Americans from the seemingly unending stream of messages invading their phones in most states, and some Federal Election Commission rules also don’t apply to text messages, including disclosing sponsors or even an identity.
While these messages are more effective at getting voters to read them in comparison to phone calls or emails, they ultimately only serve to draw up fear or anger among people and frustrate voters from engaging with politics in a meaningful way.
In a time of incredible political polarization and low voter turnout, these messages are a detractor from the real issues at hand and are nothing more than a nuisance.