Robo-Calling and Campaigns

The 2006 mid-term elections saw a large increase in the use of a campaign communications technique called "robo-calling." Robo-calling is a form of mass notification that uses a computer to call thousands of voters with a pre-recorded phone message. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 63 percent of registered voters received an automated phone call with a political message in the final stages of the 2006 elections.

Robo-calls are made using an autodialing service or software. Here's how this works:

  1. Create a calling list by manually typing in names or importing them from another document.
  2. Record a message using the microphone on a computer, a telephone or text-to-speech software.
  3. Send the message to all the people on your call list. The software can even leave a different message if it encounters an answering machine [source: voicent communications].

An additional 24 percent of voters in 2006 received phone calls from real human beings urging them to vote for a particular candidate. These phone calls were likely made using a predictive dialing system. Predictive dialing software automatically dials outbound phone numbers and only passes the call to a live agent if a call is successfully answered by a person. If the computer encounters an answering machine or a busy signal, it doesn't pass along the call [source: TMCnet].

The computer is smart enough to estimate how many calls can be handled by the number of live agents, how many calls will successfully go through and how long each person will remain on the line [source: TMCnet]. Telemarketers typically use predictive dialers. The telltale pause that accompanies most telemarketing calls is due to the time required for the computer to recognize a human voice and connect the call to an agent.

The 2006 elections also saw the first use of tele-town hall meetings. Tele-town halls are a combination of robo-calling and teleconferencing technologies. Here's how tele-town halls work:

  • A computer simultaneously calls tens of thousands of voters in a particular area.
  • The call contains a pre-recorded message by the candidate asking the voter to participate in a live teleconference with the candidate.
  • If the voter wants to participate, he presses "1" on his telephone keypad.
  • The participating voter is then given further instructions. If he wants to ask a question, he can press another key and be added to the line of people who want to ask a question. Using special teleconferencing software, the people running the teleconference can open the voter's phone line when it's his turn to ask a question.
  • Otherwise, the voter listens to the candidate talk live about his platform and answer questions from other participants.
  • Using teleconferencing software, the candidate's staff can survey participants with questions they can answer by using their keypads.
Future of Campaign Communications Technology

As candidates adapt to the prominence of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, they must also address the growing presence of alternate online realities like Second Life [source: Second Life]. 

Democrat Mike Gravel was the first 2008 presidential candidate to establish an official campaign headquarters in Second Life [source: Metaversed]. John Edwards built his headquarters some months later, but fell victim to virtual vandals.

More and more, the future of campaign communications is moving away from official spokespeople, paid advertising and credentialed journalists into the hands of ordinary citizens empowered by extraordinary technology. According to Micah Sifry of the Personal Democracy Forum, voter-generated content and grassroots online initiatives are going to be the “the wild card” of the 2008 elections [source: TechNewsWorld].

For more information about campaign communications technology and related topics, check out the links on the next page.