In campaign strategy meetings across the nation, the conversation goes something like this:
We have a plan to raise $5 million dollars to fund our media and voter contact plans. Our media plan will entail going heavy on broadcast TV, mixing in some cable and a little bit of radio. Our voter contact plan includes five direct mail pieces and paid phones. This is how we’ll win.
Repeat after me: TV, radio, mail and phones. TV, radio, mail and phones. This is a mantra ingrained in the minds of young, budding political operatives. They learn that if they can speak the language of TV, radio, mail and phones, they have a clear path to a career in campaigns and elections.
This is the same conversation that has occurred for the last two decades, the only changes being the size of the budget and the addition of cable TV.
Enter: reality, stage right. TV, radio, mail and phones no longer top the list of necessities Americans want if stranded on a desert island. According to a Pew Research Center study released this week, fewer than half (46%) of 18- to 29-year-old survey respondents consider the landline phone a necessity of life. Fewer than three-in-ten (29%) say the same about the television set.*
Moreover, the TV set and telephone landline are being replaced by a cooler, hipper set of communications channels: the home computer with Internet and mobile phone. Just 74% of U.S. households now have a landline phone. This is down from a peak of 97% in 2001. During this same time period, use of cell phones has skyrocketed. Fully 82% of adults now use cell phones, up from 53% in 2000. There are now more cell phones in the U.S. than landline phones.
But “older” voters, who we most need to turn out, still rely on the “old” media (TV, radio, mail and phones), fearful campaign operatives will say. True, older voters — particularly those 65 and over — rely on their TV sets and landlines more than younger voters, but their attitudes have changed too.
Just 42% of Americans — of all ages — say they consider the television set to be a necessity. When you consider that in 2009, this figure was 52%, and in 2006, it was 64%, you see how quickly public interest in the old media is shifting. The drop-off has been less severe for the landline telephone: Some 62% of Americans say it’s a necessity of life, down from 68% last year.
So how long can the majority of political campaigns justify a strategy that revolves around TV, radio, mail and landline phones only? Sure, some of these campaigns are experimenting with Facebook ads or Google search, but they view these as tactics for building a grassroots base, not the meat and potatoes strategy for winning.
This is not to say that TV, radio, mail and phones are not the right media and voter contact mix for *some* campaigns, but have you even stopped to consider whether you should be blindly relying on them?
Get with it, folks. Stop repeating the same old, tired chorus, and start writing a new song.
The Pew Research Center telephone survey (landline as well as cell phone) was conducted among a nationally representative sample of 2,967 adults from May 11 through May 31, 2010. Using a list of a dozen different items designed to make everyday life more productive, convenient, comfortable or entertaining, it asked respondents whether they consider each item a “necessity” or a “luxury.”