STORY BY: CHRIS GREEN
People who have the opportunity to vote in hotly contested political races in Kansas this year will likely see a deluge of campaign literature in their mailboxes. Political mailers have become such a routine part of campaigns that legislators now routinely refer to being “postcarded.” That is when a vote you’ve taken as a lawmaker becomes fodder for negative advertising.
Campaigns love mailers because they’re often considered the next best thing to sending a real person to your doorstep. Nowadays even state-level campaigns can have access to enough data about voters to have a pretty good idea about you and your political leanings. Over the years, studies have shown that well-targeted postcards can be more effective at mobilizing voters than other forms of communication, such as television advertising.
But like any form of advertising, postcards are best read with a critical eye. Here’s how to use political postcards to become a more informed voter.
1. Don’t throw them out right away.
If you save all of your mailers for a few weeks, it will give you an opportunity to compare and contrast the messages that candidates and organizations are sending you. What patterns do you see emerging? Why might you be a target for these particular messages? What do you think the goal of the advertiser is? You can always recycle postcards after the election!
2. Read the fine print.
Always check out the “paid for by” section of the advertisement. It’s crucial to understanding how seriously to take the message. You can look up information about political advertisers at http://ethics.kansas.gov. Sometimes ads will be paid for by innocuous sounding nonprofit groups, which you can search for at guidestar.com. You can also check out the sources being cited in the mailer to see if there’s another side to the story that might not be getting told.
3. Be aware of the triggers they’re trying to pull.
Groups send out mailers for a variety of reasons. Sometimes mailers build support for a candidate. Other times, it’s to discourage you from voting for certain people or make you angry at the other side. It’s usually more about mobilizing or discouraging than about changing minds. The goal is to provoke an emotional reaction – fear, anger and disgust are common. If you can understand yourself and what postcards are trying to trigger in you, you can make conscious choices and keep mailers from simply pulling your strings.
4. Take a few moments to consider multiple interpretations.
Campaigns know you’re busy, so they try to be as attention-getting as possible and leave you with a definite impression about the candidates they support or oppose, even if you simply pitch the card after a glance. Even the peek you take on the way to the wastebasket might plant a seed in your mind, particularly if it’s a race you know little about. The only way to combat the spell is to take a second to stop and think. What other possible interpretations could there be besides the one described in this mailer?
5. Challenge your own assumptions.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have some opinions about politics and for whom to vote. Don’t fall into the trap of automatically thinking the worst of people you tend to disagree with and the best of people you agree with. It may not change your vote come Election Day, but extending some grace to the other side helps you keep a healthier political attitude and might even make our democracy just a little bit better.
Read more: “The Victory Lab” by Sasha Issenberg
Share the postcards you receive with public media outlets at kspostcarding.com.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit klcjr.nl/amzsubscribe