For marketers, this question is usually twofold: Will high volumes of political mail delay delivery of other mail? And, will customers ignore other mail because of the onslaught of political mail?
The election is always the Tuesday after the first Monday of November – so it falls on the 8th this year. Mail volumes typically increase in the fall, from the last week of September through the first week of December.
In six of the last eight years, the first week of November has been one of the top three volume weeks of the year. The second week of November, although not typically a ‘peak’ week, is still at the heart of the fall mailing season. High volume = slower delivery.
In 2004, 2008 and 2012, Election Day fell in the first week of November — so this is the first time since 2000 that we’ve had an election during the second week of the month. USPS delivery has changed dramatically since then, so 2000 can’t be a valid reference point.
The table below shows the average in-home curves for the first week of November. Mail delivery in 2008 and 2012 was actually slightly better than in the years before and after it. The mail moved about the same as it had the previous week. In 2012 it was the second slowest week of the season with about a 10% shift in the curve from the previous week.
This data does not reflect any effects of the election on mail delivery. Political mail is handled the same as any other mail in its postal class. If sent as Standard Mail, it’s supposed to be color coded for sortation like all other Standard Mail under the Standard Mail Service Standard. There may be some added attention to political mail as it enters the USPS as the postal service has to assure that no political mail is purposely held up to affect a candidate’s campaign. But once it is in the mail stream, it is not handled in any special manner, which might adversely affect other mail. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the USPS to isolate political mail from other mail pieces in the system.
In recent years, political mail volume has dropped as campaigns are using other media outlets — social media, radio, phone and television. This is another reason the impact of political mail on delivery performance is minimal.
There is one caveat to this – there can be isolated cases of mail delayed due to political mail in areas with hotly contested local elections. Right before these elections, mail volume at the local level might be impacted. In national mail campaigns, this would not be easily seen in the in-home curve data, but may be felt quite significantly in certain markets.
Too Much Mail?
Will customers ignore other mail during election years? This is more difficult to answer. The assumption seems to be that customers are less likely to look at catalogs and direct mail in the days leading up to the big vote. This really depends on the customer and the product. Most people continue to live and shop as they normally would despite the national election. We’re accustomed to a lot of ‘noise’ around us– we typically juggle multiple activities, thoughts, schedules and pressures. Even when a national election approaches, we’re still thinking about the approaching holidays while considering our vote. For people who aren’t political junkies, non-political mailings might be a welcome diversion.
Most catalog and direct mailers will continue to mail as planned. Many simply cannot shift mailings around because of the constricted pre-holiday timeframe. But some like to avoid having their pieces in the mailbox the last few days prior to an election and will schedule their mail to arrive a couple days later. In the end, any changes to a target in-home date because of an election is a decision each mailer should make based on their customers and their product.
Maureen Noe is a Sr. Consultant in Quad/Graphics Postal Solutions group. With 23 years of mailing industry experience her focus is now on USPS mail performance and advising customers on mail distribution plans using data from tracking. Maureen is also a member of the USPS MTAC workgroup on IMb Tracing.