Election Day: The State Of Email Marketing In The Presidential Campaign

After 19 exhausting months, the United States 2016 election will come to a close on Tuesday as Americans cast their ballots to vote for the next President.

With polls showing a tightening presidential race, what clues about the election’s outcome can the candidates’ email marketing engagement rates offer us?

New data from Return Path, a data and email solutions provider, and Persado, a cognitive content marketing platform, show diverging email marketing campaigns that differ in strategy and tone.

Email List Size

Hillary Clinton started her campaign with a sizable advantage in email list subscriber numbers according to Return Path, but Trump’s email list is now 9% larger than Clinton’s. Yet evidence points to Trump’s email list lead likely deriving from purchased or rented email lists, as data shows his list jumping literally overnight. 

Return Path offers an analysis of the candidate’s campaigns in the Email for President tool online, where users can look for details on the campaign’s email list size, open rates, spam rates and complaint rates based on a 30-day average. The data derives from consumer data captured in the Return Path Data Cloud, an opt-in panel of over 2.5 million inboxes.

Spam Complaints and Deliverability

Trump’s email marketing campaign has been littered with spam issues since the Republican primaries, with as many as 60% of his emails being filtered to spam on June 21, according to Return Path. Trump’s campaign sends emails from four different domains with varying spam rates, but his inbox placement rates lag behind his Democratic rival.

Although Clinton’s email list is smaller than Trump’s, more of Clinton’s emails are landing in the inbox. Clinton runs her entire email program through one, certified sending domain with a 96% deliverability rate. Her email team also vigorously A/B tests every subject line, helping her complaint rate remain around 0% while Trump’s has jumped as high as 20% in recent weeks.

Engagement Rates

Of the emails that do deliver, Trump has experienced a highly receptive audience. Trump consistently bested Clinton in email open rates throughout the election until faltering this fall. As of late October, Return Path says Clinton’s average open rate has been 18%, while Trump’s is 12%.


Persado analyzed more than 6,000 subject lines sent by both candidates’ campaigns from January 1 through August 31 using the company’s neural network classifier to categorize the emotional language used in each subject line.

Both campaigns used similar terminology in their subject lines, with an emphasis on the candidate’s names, campaign and attempts to mobilize followers for an upcoming event. One key difference is that Clinton’s third-most frequently used word is “we,” while Trump’s is “me.”

Trump’s most frequently used phrases in email subject lines were “approval rating” and “crooked Hillary,” while Clinton’s most used phrases were “stop Trump” and “thank you.”

The most common emotion leveraged by the Clinton campaign in its email subject lines was anticipation, followed by joy, fear, trust and pride. Perhaps the campaign should have prioritized the latter emotions, since trust and then pride were the most effective subject lines and elicited the highest engagement rates.

The most common emotion leveraged by the Trump campaign in its subject lines was joy, followed by anticipation, fear, trust and pride. Pride elicited the highest engagement rates, followed by fear. 

Next story loading loading..