ELECTION 2020

Confirmed: Political robocalls in Iowa among nation's highest

Firm finds only five states have higher rates than Iowa does

Iowa saw over a 125 percent increase in political robocalls in a typical week from August to September, according to an
Iowa saw over a 125 percent increase in political robocalls in a typical week from August to September, according to an analysis from Transaction Network Services. (Dreamstime)
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It’s unlikely to come as a surprise to anyone with a landline phone that Iowa is among the six states receiving the most political robocalls this campaign season.

In fact, a firm that tracks robocalling found that during one week in October, about 14 political robocalls calls were made into the state for every 100 Iowans.

That’s a product not only of the highly competitive races for president, a U.S. Senate seat and four House races in Iowa, but also because robocalling is an effective and inexpensive way to reach a target audience, according to Nicole Schlinger, president of Campaign HQ of Brooklyn, Iowa.

“You get to a point where all the TV is bought, all the mail you can send is sent, but you can always send a few more phone calls,” she said last week.

Big Iowa hikes

Campaign HQ isn’t the only campaign firm offering calling services running up big numbers in this election cycle, according to Jim Tyrrell, a senior director at Transaction Network Services.

TNS, which analyzes more than 1 billion robocall events daily, reported that Iowa saw over a 125 percent increase in political robocalls in a typical week from August to September.

And the numbers got even higher since then.

Using the week of Aug. 16 as a baseline, political robocalls to Iowans soared from 164,393 to a peak 526,457 the week of Oct. 4, TNS reported as of Friday. Over nine weeks from mid-August to the week of Oct. 11, 3,456,824 political robocalls were made to Iowans.

In one four-week period, Tyrrell said, 1.8 million political robocalls were made to Iowans, “which is quite a lot for Iowa.”

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However, political robocalls account for just a slice of “unwanted” calls, Tyrrell said. Overall, all unwanted calls into Iowa went from 15 million in August to 24 million in September.

Iowa ranks 6th

The heaviest increases in call volume TNS saw in early October were for rural, non-battleground states that can potentially be traced to key congressional and state races in those locations.

Whether Iowa still is considered a battleground state is open for debate, but the big races Iowa voters face are competitive enough they’re generating one of the nation’s highest rates of political robocalls.

Iowa ranks sixth behind North Carolina, Montana, Maine, Wisconsin and Ohio, with New Hampshire coming in seventh, Tyrrell said.

inexpensive option

Although there are restrictions on robocalling for commercial purposes, political campaign-related autodialed or prerecorded voice calls are permitted to landlines.

Schlinger, from the Iowa company, makes a distinction between automated calls — a live caller using an automated dialing device — and robocalls, which are recorded messages delivered when a person answers or when voicemail picks up.

But either way, at about a penny a call, robocalls are an inexpensive and effective way to reach voters, she said, though she allowed a robocall alone may not persuade a President Donald Trump supporter to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.

It’s not necessarily about moving big numbers of voters, Tyrrell said. Iowa has about 2.2 million registered voters, though the state classifies nearly 160,000 of them as inactive. “So if you can get a handful of them to either change their vote or get the inactive voters to act, then it’s going to potentially have a significant impact,” he said.

useful reminder

Robocalls also are an effective way to promote a campaign event or deliver other information about a candidate, Schlinger said. Many campaigns use robocalls to remind voters to return absentee ballots or convey where to vote in person on Election Day.

They can be especially helpful in down-ballot races where the candidates may not be well-known or get little attention.

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“You might not know a lot about a candidate for a county or a local office, but if you know Gov. Reynolds or Sen. Grassley or Ambassador Branstad supports that person, that could be a meaningful factor in your decision about a race,” Schlinger said.

Pat Boone calling

Schlinger’s Campaign HQ works with the 60 Plus Association, which has Pat Boone as its spokesman.

“When you say no one says they enjoy getting a recorded message, just imagine being a senior voter and getting a message on your answering machine from your generation’s Justin Bieber,” Schlinger said. “People love it.”

At this point of the campaign, Schlinger said, candidates are battling a crowded media landscape.

“There is so much noise on TV, there’s so much noise on the internet, whether it’s on social media or any of the websites that you visit on a daily basis,” she said. “They’re so cluttered with political messaging that oftentimes an automated message on your phone is one of the best ways to break through all of that clutter and actually have your message heard.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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