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Manipulative tactics are the norm in political emails: Evidence from 100K emails [pdf] (electionemails2020.org)
139 points by randomwalker 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments

It's worth noting that we don't even have a Federal Election Commission during this ongoing election[1].

[1] https://www.rollcall.com/2020/06/26/fec-set-to-lose-its-quor...

Just the other day, I was reading through the platform of Craig Keller (Rep-D7) in my wife's copy of the official Washington voters' guide.

I've learned that apparently, H1B visa-holders don't pay any social security taxes. This is news to both me, and the IRS, since I've payed tens of thousands of dollars in social security taxes over the years of being on an H1B.

This raises an obvious question - should I invoice the candidate making this claim, his donors, his voters, or his party leadership, for a return of that money?

Because I Like Sources(tm), here's the Washington Voter's Guide, where Keller does, in point of fact, advance the claim that H1Bs don't pay social security taxes, which is false:


Keller lost by 67 points in 2018. I'm guessing he's going to lose by even more this year. https://ballotpedia.org/Craig_Keller

The candidate. If we can find a way to punish blatant falsehoods from our candidates, we are going to get better candidates.

I actually disagree with this - if candidates are expected to hold financial liability for the political claims of their party, then the only people who will dare to stand will be billionaires.


I think... they may have been joking?

The R governor candidate in Washington has said that Democracy is the gateway to socialism, and that socialism is the gateway to communism, so we should all be wary of democracy.

It's wild right now.

Do you have a direct link to a source for that? The candidate's twitter feed or blog, an uncut youtube video, etc.?

Emphatically not Fox News, MSNBC, NYT, etc. The lot of them have fully sacrificed their credibility over the past decade.

I keep seeing things like "Candidate Claims That We Must Kill All Babies And Eat Their Flesh" happily bounced around between media sites and their captive talking heads, and when you actually dig out what the candidate actually said, it's totally mundane, the exact opposite of what was claimed, or the claim itself was outright fabricated ("an anonymous source tells us...")

Not saying you're wrong, but in the age of fake news, direct sources are really the only believable thing.


“The problem with Democracy — you can look at quotes from famous Chinese leaders like Mao, Gorbachev — they loved Democracy because Democracy is a step toward socialism, which is a step towards communism.”

Thanks for sharing a link with context!

The quote is a little out of context -- the candidate is arguing for keeping a representative, rather than a direct democracy -- but he absolutely does say that direct democracy is a step towards communism at the end.

It seems that the Republican party decided that it has no hope of contesting the gubernatorial seat, which was reflected in their primaries - a race among a lineup of absolute clowns, among whom Culp placed first.

For folks who don't live in Washington - his official blurb is that he has no platform, and his qualifications consist of owning a construction company and being married for 43 years. No elected experience, no other professional experience, no education, no background in community service. [1]

This state of affairs is, of course, bad for democracy for two reasons. For one, the opposition candidate is completely unqualified (And heaven forbid if he actually wins.)

For another, when the opposition is so incapable, the bar of competence for the incumbent can't be lower.

[1] I wish I was kidding, but that is what I see in my voter guide. The folks who are running unopposed for their seats have more to say about themselves than he does.

This isn't surprising. Reformed conservative thinker David Frum warned about this several years ago, with his most notable quote being:

"If conservatives become convinced that they can not win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. The will reject democracy."[0]

Conservative opposition to democracy has already has wide, deep, roots and extends from kook candidates in blue states up to the Senate (where McConnell described attempts to increase voter turnout as a Democratic 'power grab'[1]) and the Trump circle, which has identified reducing voter turnout by disrupting absentee voting as a critical electoral strategy[2]. This problem isn't going to get any better.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/56364271-trumpocracy-t...

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/31/us/politics/election-day-...

[2] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trum...

> "If conservatives become convinced that they can not win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. The will reject democracy."

This is true on both sides of the political divide.

The narrative from the Right is something like, "The Democrats are trying to steal the election with voter fraud, rioting to intimidate conservative voters, and last-minute changes to voting laws. We need to fight this by pushing Voter ID, for keeping the voting system as-is (either in-person or absentee, but no mail-in voting[1]), and seating our supreme court justice. They can only win by cheating."

The narrative from the Left is something like, "The Republicans are trying to win by suppressing the popular vote. We need to fight this by expanding voting to as many people as possible, abolishing the Electoral College, and preventing the Republicans from seating their supreme court pick. They can only win by cheating."

Both of those viewpoints have large elements of truth to them. This is not politics as usual -- this is a dirty fight to the death, between two mutually incompatible visions for the future of the United States.

Neither side is going to "play fair".

> "Reformed conservative thinker"

Reversing polarity, would you call a former Democrat that now supports Trump a "reformed liberal"? Something tells me the answer is "no".

People learn and change their views. Or the Overton Window shifts, and they find that their views puts them in a different camp.

[1] Absentee and Mail-In Voting are different. Absentee voting assumes you have registered to vote for an upcoming election, and receive your ballot by mail. With mail-in voting, ballots are sent to all potential voters.

There is no element of truth whatsoever to the Republican view that Democrats engage in voter fraud. This has been a baseless Republican shibboleth for decades and it has been repeatedly investigated. Even those investigations tied closely enough to Republican politics to be vulnerable to motivated reasoning have found no evidence of systematic voter fraud[0].

And yet, the voter fraud narrative continues, in very large part because it justifies very well documented Republican electoral fraud schemes designed to restrict the democratic rights of demographics that do not vote Republican. Indeed, the GOP was under legal supervision for 35 years, until 2018, for systemic, organized, voter suppression strategies intended to tilt elections in its favor.[1] Freed of any supervision by the Supreme Court, the GOP is happily working to manipulate the vote in its favor in 2020[2][3][4][5]. Also: "Russia, if you're listening,"[6][7] is a clear case of violating democratic rules for partisan advantage. There is no equivalent history among modern Democrats after the post-civil rights realignment of the parties.

As far as the legitimacy of the electoral college (and, for that matter, the Senate and the Supreme Court) is concerned, the United States was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and that all men (in the language of the time) are created equal[8]. While it is within the GOP's constitutional right to fill the supreme court with conservative extremists, the practice disenfranchises the majority and subjects them to the rule (=taxation, among other things) of a minority that is hostile to both their interests, and, indeed, to their way of life. It is naive to expect that the creeping disenfranchisement of the majority of the population--in a country founded by launching a rebellion to end its own disenfranchisement--will pass quietly.

This is not a both-sides bad issue. This is a contest between two mutually incompatible views of the United States: between a broad coalition that wants democratically-representative government and a narrow, but highly motivated, bloc that sees no value in democracy and is actively working to undermine it.

[0] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/24/fbi-has-not-seen-evidence-of...

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/the-gop...

[2] https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-vote-vot...

[3] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trum...

[4] https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/columnists/grieder/art...

[5] https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/01/politics/jacob-wohl-jack-burk...

[6] https://www.justice.gov/storage/report.pdf

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mueller_report

[8] Is civics education so bad that I really need to cite this?

My statements, above, capture the prevailing narratives from both sides. It is important to note that, at this point, it doesn't matter what is true. Which is stupidly hard to determine right now -- institutional credibility is at an all-time low, across the board. What matters right now, in the churn, is what people believe to be true.

Human beings are not logical. We construct our beliefs, and search for evidence to support those beliefs, not the other way around.

Right now, the set of things-believed-to-be-true between Democrats and Republicans is mutually disjoint. Wholly different realities. I don't see those converging in any peaceful way.

Look, I get it.

You want your team to win, because the other team is a bunch of People So Horrible That We Can Not Even Speak To Them (Did You See What They Did?!?).

If somebody doesn't see what you see, they either need to be educated -- as you are attempting to do with me -- or they are evil, and must be attacked.

I do not live in the United States, and I have not for a decade. I am having very complicated thoughts as to whether or not I want to move back, because I am not in any way interested in playing this game.

This sucks for non-Americans working outside the US for US companies, by the way. I've seen people absolutely pilloried for failing to conform to social norms that (a) they don't understand; and, (b) do not apply in their countries.

From my standpoint, the entire country has gone catastrophically insane, and I do not see this as ending well for anybody.

I'm new to HN, and find myself coming here more and more often to luxuriate in open-ended discussions between people with divergent, qualified opinions. I'm realizing the lighter-gray text is donwnvted posts. Is it a large number to cause it? I see nothing inflammatory here, it's a well-reasoned response, where both posters essentially agree - we are at an impasse do to the fundamental incompatability of the modern versions of teams Red and Blue. Am I to infer that the it's being downvoted simply because it suggests that both sides are responsible for the state of affairs? I am used to encountering this in the world from both sides, but it's sort of extra disappointing to see such behavior here. Forgive me if I'm missing something.

The frame that helped me understand things was to start looking at America as a country engaged in a cold civil war since 2015 or so, starting from a state of total information warfare, where the Democrats had a distinct materiel advantage.

Democrats have been marshaling their forces since then, and are trying for a repeat of the 2016 strategy, only they are all-hands-on-deck this time.

Republicans have spent the past four years trying to come to grips with establishing operations in a hostile territory (Washington D.C.).

The state of the Democrats feels pretty clear to me, but it's super hard to get a read on where the Republicans are right now. Fog of war is thick, and we won't really know where things are going until November.

This forum has mostly Americans. There is a recent meme in American politics that says that someone arguing that both sides are the same is a bad thing. Because they're actually arguing in favor of one of the sides in some hidden manner, or because not picking sides only supports a bad status quo, or something like that. Anyway, it's bad and you got to downvote it.

At least in terms of my above comment, the things that Republicans believe, and the things that Democrats believe, are both true.

But I wouldn't say that they are both the same. That was true before 2016, but 2020 is a Very Different World.

Prior to 2016, Americans had two parties that largely colluded with each other to maintain power. This is why they wrestled control of the debates away from the League of Women Voters in the late 80s[1], why third parties disappeared out of the debates shortly thereafter, and why Obama, whom I voted for, governed almost identically to Bush, whom I didn't.

Let's call this duopoly the Establishment.

2016 was a brick through both Establishment windows. Bernie from the Left, and Trump from the Right. Bernie got shut down and bought off, but the Republicans, being the official party of milquetoast whining, had no tools to stop Trump.

Bernie would have stomped Trump in 2016, by the way.

Now, the Democrats are playing the same tune they were in 2016, just cranked up to 11. They had some solid candidates -- I still really like Tulsi -- but either character-assassinated (Tulsi) or ignored (Yang) the hell out of them in favor of Biden.

This hasn't done the Democrats any favors. They've been aggressively attacking anybody identified as a heretic, meaning anybody that isn't a hard-line loyalist. I'm not sure that translates to Trump votes, but I don't think it translates to Biden ones, either.

Hence, the hostility.

The Republicans are in a weird space. The Establishment faction is in total disarray, and the Trump faction is struggling with a civil service that is in large part actively hostile. Washington long-haulers are playing it safe, as if Trump is out come January, they go up against the wall, quite possibly in the literal sense.

No idea how things will play out, but the real worry is what happens afterwards.

Democrats will not accept a Trump victory. Republicans will not accept a Biden victory.

This is a bad place to be, folks. Never thought I would see things like this in my lifetime, but that's where we are.

[1] https://www.lwv.org/league-women-voters-and-candidate-debate...

Downvotes are used in practice for 'I disagree' rather than just 'this content is inappropriate.'

Platforms that support downvotes (including HN) are prone to groupthink and vote bullying. Going against the popular view--either site-wide or against the popular view of the people who access a given comment thread--will result in downvotes even when posting material that's factually accurate. This tends to create a self-amplifying process where established views become more entrenched and, possibly, more extreme.

For example, the majority view among people who access COVID-19 posts on HN is that the disease is not a major risk. Anything posted to the contrary is highly likely to be be downvoted and/or flagged for removal. This drives away factual information in favor of groupthink and creates nothing more than a single-sided echo chamber.

HN is no better than Reddit in this regard; it's just that the groupthink hot buttons on HN are different from those on Reddit.

As this view itself is a view that runs against the universally accepted wisdom on HN, this post itself has already been downvoted and will likely be downvoted further.

As a matter of personal ethics, I only downvote material that is socially hazardous (e.g. COVID-19 misinformation), seemingly inorganic, or seemingly dishonest. Being wrong in good faith isn't a karma crime and shouldn't be punished. Unfortunately this is far from a universally accepted perspective.

With regard to why both-sides-bad arguments are not well received in the context of US politics, I feel newen covered most of that in his/her reply to you. However, I will add that 'both-sides-bad' has a really long history of being used disingenuously by the right wing, both directly and by paying left wing fringe candidates who use 'both-sides-bad' messaging to split the Democratic vote.

Both sides are indeed bad (see: e.g. Obama's execution-by-drone policy), but one side is far worse than the other (see: e.g. Trump's children-in-cages policy) and 'both-sides-bad' is usually used by the right wing as a way to trivialize Republican abuses. People who pay attention to US politics tend to be aware of this and will be less inclined to give 'both-sides-bad' comments the benefit of the doubt.

Further, on the question of respect for democratic rights, the factual history of voter suppression in the United States is so black-and-white (literally: it's a history of white conservatives preventing black people from voting) that anyone who does a 'both-sides-bad' take on this is either grossly uninformed or dishonest. Neither option will be well received by people who pay attention to these kind of issues.

> the practice disenfranchises the majority and subjects them to the rule (=taxation, among other things) of a minority that is hostile to both their interests, and, indeed, to their way of life

The taxation argument rings a little hollow given that so many of these ostensibly disenfranchised Democrats face negative effective tax rates.

Whose way of life is being threatened? What's being forced on you? Which blue state is being hamstrung in its attempts to bring utopia to its people? If liberals would be more honest with themselves, they'd concede that the GOP poses no obstacle at all to their progressive plans for their own states. The only thing the GOP is obstructing is progressive plans for red states. But that's just another way of saying those voters have rejected what you want for them--and once you concede that, your complaint isn't about democracy any more.

From your reference [6] (page 62), someone connected to Trump said, "The person can get the emails which 1. Were classified and 2. Were purloined by our enemies. That would demonstrate what needs to be demonstrated."

So the plan was to gather evidence that Clinton had committed a crime (allowing classified information to be obtained by a foreign adversary). Are you saying that trying to prove your electoral opponent is a criminal is not allowed in a democracy? That that is, as you say, "a clear case of violating democratic rules"? You think the Trump campaign should have just ignored the possibility that Clinton's conduct was criminal, since thinking such things isn't nice?

I finished David's latest book [0], and I've been trying to find the quote where he says if Trump wins without the popular vote again then that may cause the majority of Americans to "impose their will" on the nation regardless.

Do you recall? I've been seeking to clarify his thoughts there.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49205130-trumpocalypse?a...

Sorry, I can't help as I haven't read that one yet.

Thanks. Even though I'm on the left, I appreciate David's conservative writing and his policy solutions to prevent another Trump. I'm a little confused about the downvotes, but it seems you've been through worse.

The same growth hacking techniques that make for annoying landing pages with huge CTA buttons and fake countdown timers has made it to political fundraising.

I had definitely noticed that the political emails I've been getting (my email has probably been sold and resold countless times).

You have it backwards. Political ad creatives needed something to do outside election cycles.

The point of this isn't to reveal a deep secret; it's to provide quantified evidence. So there's no need to post comments of mock shock.

Agree, this report isn't designed to shock readers, of course (multiple people posting sarcastic/non shock) already expected it. Its almost as if it had to be written to shock people on this thread in order to be accepted, which brings us full circle.

I enjoyed the report not because it shocked me but because it outlined its methodology, it showed clear examples, and it points to a growing trend. It makes me wonder where these things go next, it feels like squeezing a lemon. Sure if you get a hydraulic press you'll get a bit more out. Then you've destroyed the entire communication channel.

Thank you. I think that it would be cool to see a word cloud for this data set.

Manipulative tactics are the norm in political mailings, too. They just take different forms.

Maybe even one could say that manipulative tactics are the norm in politics.

Given the nature of the format, what would be a tactic you would consider... unmanipulative, yet could still be effective?

Effective? Or at least as effective as manipulative techniques?

Either way, I can't answer that. I'm not an advertising/mass communication/PR person. All I can tell you is what works and doesn't work for me, and manipulation really rubs me the wrong way. But then, I'm probably not the typical voter.

Or, more cynically, manipulation rubs me the wrong way when I detect it. What they may be doing is doing manipulation that the average voter doesn't detect strongly.

and in business.

I’m getting an unprecedented level of political spam via text. It’s really, really annoying.

It’s worse. Uber decided to abuse notifications on my phone to urge me to support California Prop 22.

Same. Ironic that the same people who put laws like the federal do not call list together put those ideas aside when it’ll benefit them. These are the people who are supposed to be making our lives better, spamming us to the point that it’s changing my relationship with the social communication device in my pocket.

Even more explicitly, they're selling/trading my personal identifiable data. Exactly the thing they accuse Facebook and Google of doing, except Google and Facebook don't actually do that but the politicians are literally sending my data to their friends! It's such a doublespeak.

Most every state sells or gives away the voter rolls. This has been a tremendously annoying issue for decades.

I'm talking even more directly, politicians' campaigns collect behavior data about my online activity, predict my political beliefs, my demographics, etc. They trade/sell them to their PACs, who then send clickbaitey emails and text messages, and make spammy phone calls to manipulate me to donate or vote for them. So much worse than Facebook.

Democracy is a popularity contest. Why is this surprising?

Fast food is a popularity contest, with every store having a direct financial interest in driving and retaining customer loyalty. But I've never gotten an email from In n Out saying they need to sell 549 more burgers before midnight to beat Five Guys in quarterly sales rankings.

Lots of them will give you free food in return for installing their smart phone app though.

Anyone offering me free anything (but especially food) to install software immediately goes on my creepy list.

Eh, pretty much every other app on smartphones these days is harvesting my metadata already. I might as well get a cheeseburger out of it.

I'm fine with a fast food place giving me food in exchange for me giving them anonymised data on how to sell more food. That seems like a pretty equitable deal to me. The problem comes when shadier companies start, for example, keylogging your device and sending all of that to a foreign government.

> But I've never gotten an email from In n Out saying they need to sell 549 more burgers before midnight to beat Five Guys in quarterly sales rankings.

I'm pretty sure their staff do, though.

> Fast food is a popularity contest, with every store having a direct financial interest in driving and retaining customer loyalty.


> But I've never gotten an email from In n Out saying they need to sell 549 more burgers before midnight to beat Five Guys in quarterly sales rankings.

You didn't get such an email because it wouldn't retain your loyalty. If it did, you would get those emails.

People generally don't spend money so that one brand can beat another. They spend money to be part of the brand, or to consume it. However, they do spend money to have their guy beat the other guy.

Would you care if In n Out beats Five Guys?

Would you care who wins your mayoral election?

Voting is a popularity contest, electing representatives via sortition is perfectly valid and imo more closer to the idea of democracy.

It doesn't strike me that these e-mails are making anyone popular?

Also, water wet.

Some of these are good examples for use in your cold emails.

Could you remove the word "political" and make the same headline assertion?

Why wouldn't they be? Neither party offers anything of economic value to anyone that isn't rich so the only way they'll get people to click is a bag of tricks.

I'm shocked, shocked that campaign emails would be so biased, partisan, and maniuplative! Shocked!

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