Political Robo-Calls

Are people actually being influenced to vote based on robo-calls? And, if so, what percentage of people are being influenced to vote against the candidate on behalf of whom the calls are made?

Not surprisingly, given the season, I’m getting an increasing number of robo-calls with recorded messages from famous and less famous politicians, urging me to vote for various candidates.  I instantly hang up in irritation once I’ve determined that this is what’s happening.

What I wonder is this:  Are people actually being influenced to vote based on these calls?  And, if so, what percentage of people are being influenced to vote against the candidate on behalf of whom the calls are made?

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jeff Q. says:

    The phone ringing can be annoying but I never hear who the messages are from.

    That’s what caller ID is for.

  2. CGHill says:

    Answering machine: “We’re sorry, but we’re taking no calls until after the goddamn election. Please call back at that time.”

  3. I think there are two purposes to these calls.

    One is that they’re part of the basic Get-Out-The-Vote effort. When I used to work campaigns, we would have a phone bank of volunteers making calls like that for most of the last week or so of the campaign, and another list of regular voters we’d call on Election Day itself. Now that the technology exists to make these calls without having someone on the other end, it seems they’ve become more common.

    The other, and I think far more common, purpose of robo-calls is to spread negative information about a candidate. Like push-polling, a robocall that informs voters that one’s opponent takes position X on issue Y spreads like wildfire and often ends up becoming a story itself. Thus providing candidates with free media coverage reporting the robocall campaign that is spreading negative information about one’s opponent..

    Does it work ? Well, I imagine that campaigns wouldn’t spend money on it if it didn’t

    Incidentally, this is the time of year that I’m very glad i’ve been able to get buy without need for a landline for the last five years. I haven’t gotten a campaign call of any kind since Virginia’s Gubernatorial campaign in 2005

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Jeff Q: “That’s what caller ID is for.”

    The problem is that, if I’m home, it’s annoying to wait for the phone to stop ringing.

    And CallerID really isn’t very useful in the age of cell phones. Most numbers no longer register.

    @Doug: Cell coverage isn’t great out where we are, as a function of affluent people who use cell phones all the time nonetheless banding together to ensure no cell phone towers are anywhere near their homes. Also, there’s the issue of 9-1-1 calls, which we’d like to be able to make in the event of an emergency.

  5. James,

    Yea going landline free isn’t for everyone but I’m not complaining at this point

  6. Brett says:

    I remember reading a study a while back that said that phone calling had little to no effect on people in terms of things like GOTV operations. I wonder if that’s true for political advertising as well.

  7. Richard Gardner says:

    The other day I got a Robo-call on my cell phone from Vote Vets (or some such) that stated the republican candidate for Senator wanted to slash the military. I’ll admit the Dem incumbent is very focused on Veteran’s issues, but the call was not truthful. And I was very irritated that I got it on my cell phone, whose number has never been a land line (POTS). I did some quick research and apparently political calls can be made to cell phones (couldn’t tell if it was only the official campaign).

    I’m also getting lots of political mail. I was joking with the mailman that these mailers must be good for USPS. I have a recycle bin next to the mail slot.