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‘It’s starting to feel like a jilted lover is stalking me’: Campaign texts have become relentless

Politicians might send a billion texts this election cycle.

Ally Rzesa

In the nanosecond before Jill McCracken opens a text, hope blossoms. “Someone wants to talk to me!” the Somerville indie soul singer-songwriter thinks.

Maybe it’s the job she’s waiting to hear about. Or a friend. But no.

“It’s always Nadia from Ed Markey’s campaign,” she said.

(Nadia, if you’re reading this, you can rest easy. McCracken knows how to vote.)

What Bernie Sanders elevated to an art in 2016 — “peer to peer” texting, in which one volunteer texts one person at a time — has exploded to the point where Democratic and Republican campaigns may send a billion or more texts this cycle, said Shane D’Aprile, co-owner and co-publisher of Campaigns & Elections, a nonpartisan trade journal.


An efficient volunteer, using a texting platform that prepopulates phone numbers and messages, could hit 1,000 or more texts per hour, he said. “Easily.”

We’re relying on grassroots supporters like you don’t miss out on your chance for a call with the candidate donate now our democracy is at stake sign our pledge fake news don’t let us down if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can and they will if we don’t make a change this election give now or we’ll dog you until the schlep of changing your number seems worth it.

Campaigns love texts because they get through at a rate e-mail and calls can only dream about. “Somewhere between 75 and 98 percent of texts are opened and read,” Aprile said.

Many text recipients ignore the messages, but some actually donate or vote because they’ve been contacted. Others are so angered they turn against the candidate, or file suits alleging they are wrongly receiving unsolicited messages.

But there’s another group: the smart alecks. For them, texts play the role of muse.


Andrew Katz a creative director from Melrose, is engaged in thumb-to-thumb combat with the campaign of John Cummings, a New York Republican challenging Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The skirmish started with a Cummings campaign text: “My opponent, the infamous socialist AOC, wants to defund the police and raise your taxes,” the pitch read.

“Do you know Bill Cummings?” Katz, a Democrat, insincerely texted back. “He was my father’s roommate at Union College. Nice guy but I heard he wasn’t super reliable.”

Alas, the volunteer didn’t take the bait.

In Medford, Dan Griffin, an administrator at a private school, was so desperate to get off Markey’s list that he started sending the campaign the viral Michael Jordan gif. “Stop it,” Jordan says. “Get some help!”

Another annoyed text recipient, in Brookline, responded to outreach by the campaign of Markey’s challenger, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, by texting back a threat. “If you send me any more texts,” she wrote, “I will vote for Markey!”

Despite text hostility, an analysis of the 2018 race by Tech for Campaigns found that registered voters between the ages of 27 to 50 who were texted turned out to vote at a rate almost 8 percent higher than those in that same age group who were not texted.

Campaigns use texts in large part because they reach voters in what had been a personal space — which is the exact reason Michaelson Joseph, of Roxbury, resents them.

“They try to text you like they’re your friend but it creates a feeling of discomfort,” said Joseph, who is unhappy with the way politicians have handled the pandemic and police violence against Black people.


“There’s this feeling that you have been sold out by these people, and then they’re texting and asking for money,” he said. “You’re enjoying your day and all of a sudden you get a text from someone you don’t like.”

With large and organized efforts to solicit donations for even distant races, our phones are not safe from campaigns literally thousands of miles away.

“Just got a fundraiser text message from [Florida Senator] Rick Scott’s campaign that said to donate to avoid a socialist takeover,” Joseph tweeted. “They definitely picked the wrong one lmaoooo.”

But even as we mock, our phones ping.

Dana Córdova a marketing executive in Chelsea, gets about five political texts a day. “Nancy Pelosi is my best friend right now,” she said of the speaker of the House. “I’m waiting for her to come over and braid my hair.”

With their first-name familiarity, and intimations of intimacy, campaign texts feel “increasingly creepy,” she said.

Consider, for example, this recent text from a nonprofit Democratic fund-raising group. “Hi,” it read. “I just looked through my phone book and remembered your name.”

Córdova did a brief, ad-libbed text monologue — ”Hey Dana, I’m not sure if you saw this, but we’re really screwed right now, we need you, we miss you” —and then she made an observation:


“It’s starting to feel like a jilted lover is stalking me.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her @bethteitell.