October 6, 2020

Political messages & how to stop them

Political messages & how to stop them

If you've felt like political robocalls and text messages have increased over the last couple of years, you're right. When the polls close on November 3rd, 2020 for the United States Presidential Election, Americans will have received billions of political text messages and calls.

Some Americans view political messaging as a helpful way to follow or contribute to their political candidate of choice. However, not all Americans want to receive political messages. Due to how political robocalls and text messages are regulated, unwanted political messages can be difficult to unsubscribe from — but not impossible. In this post, we'll cover the following:

  • What are the rules and regulations for political calls and messages?
  • How do I report and stop unwanted political spam calls and messages?
  • How did political campaign organizations get my phone number?
  • Are all political messages legitimate and legal?
  • How many political messages are sent to Americans every month?
  • Why are political robocalls and texts used so frequently for political campaign efforts? 
  • What is peer-to-peer texting, and why do so many political campaigns use it? 

Rules for political campaign texts

Once political campaigns are in full swing, candidates and political parties will call and text voters to solicit money, votes, and opinions. While campaign calls and texts are exempt from the Do Not Call List requirements, the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) contains specific rules that must be followed.

These rules, however, differ depending on whether it's a mobile phone or a landline. Robocalls and robotexts to mobile phones require prior consent, while landline calls are allowed without prior permission. 

Political robocall restrictions

As said before, political robocalls are exempt from the Do Not Call List requirements. The callers’ rights even go beyond that: All states allow access to voter data for election purposes, which includes political party affiliation, address, and political donations. But there's still the TCPA and its rules that any political campaign has to follow: They state that any auto-dialed or pre-recorded voice call to mobile phones without the called party's prior consent is forbidden. Those restrictions also apply to protected phone lines, like emergency and toll-free lines. 

Landline phones, on the other hand, are not so lucky. Here, the political campaigns are allowed to call these numbers even without prior consent. It is essential, however, for them to include specific identification information in their calls, otherwise the robocall is not permitted — even to landlines.

Political robotexts

A robotext is a text message generated via auto-dialing. Since robotexts share technological similarities to robocalls, they fall under the same regulations. However, since text messages are usually sent to mobile phones, it is crucial to ask for the recipient's consent before sending a text. Unfortunately, campaigns can bypass this rule by manually dialing and sending one message at a time instead of using auto-dialing technology. 

How does political message volume break down by political party?

Republican political message efforts have been the clear leader in political message activity since Robokiller first began tracking these trends in June 2020. This is not surprising, as most politicians began leaning heavily into political texting during the 2016 Presidential Election. In September 2020, Robokiller estimated political robocalls on behalf of Republicans accounted for 1.8 million of the 2.7 billion total political text messages and 50 million of the 70 million total political robocalls. In other words, this accounts for approximately 70% of all political messages for September 2020.

Though far behind 2020 Republican political messaging, the Democratic party has been rallying to increase efforts to reach voters through political text. Political text messages sent on behalf of Democrats totaled 902 million in September 2020, accounting for a 200% increase since June 2020. However, regardless of who is leading the political message race, one thing is clear: Americans nationwide can expect to receive millions (if not billions!) of political text messages and robocalls during future political campaigns.

How do I report political spam texts?

If you think you've received a political robocall or text that does not comply with the TCPA's or FCC's rules, you can file an informal complaint at fcc.gov/complaints. For political text messages you didn't ask for, report the sender by forwarding the message to 7726 and add "SPAM." Also, political campaigns must honor any opt-out requests if you reply with "STOP" to their messages.

How do I stop getting political text messages?

There is a way to stop political messages: It just requires time, action, and patience. Robokiller recommends trying the following to eliminate or reduce the number of unwanted political messages you may receive: 

  • Request to unsubscribe: Legally, all political messages must comply with any written or verbal requests to stop receiving messages. It is perfectly acceptable to reply "STOP" to an unwanted political text message or express to a political caller you'd like to be removed from their list.
  • Contact the campaign or organization: If you continue to receive unwanted political messages after requesting to unsubscribe, you can contact the campaign or organization directly via email or snail mail and request to be removed from their list. This provides an additional form of confirmation you do not wish to be contacted if you continue to have problems or decide to take legal action.
  • Use a second phone number app when making a donation: If you wish to make a campaign donation but would like to avoid the headache of unwanted messages that follow it, using a second phone number app will create an active phone number you can provide instead of your personal phone number when making a donation.
  • Use a third-party spam call blocker app: There are various apps on the App Store and Google Play Store that help you get rid of unwanted calls and messages. We highly recommend using Robokiller since it’s one of the most accessible, practical, and exceptionally efficient tools to block spam calls and texts for good.
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How does Robokiller work?

Robokiller is the only call blocker app that blocks spam calls and text messages using A.I. and machine learning. Unlike other call-blocking solutions that only stop calls based on user feedback and caller ID, Robokiller's predictive algorithm gets to the root of the problem by disarming the caller or texter behind the message. Any time a spam call attempts to reach a Robokiller customer, Robokiller automatically identifies and intercepts the call before the phone ever rings. It then uses AI and machine learning to analyze these intercepted spam calls and create a unique audio fingerprint of the phone call. That information is then stored in a database of audio fingerprints. This way, Robokiller can identify and shut down any similar robocall — regardless of the caller's ID. 

For text messages, Robokiller uses machine learning to identify dangerous text scams. First, Robokiller analyzes the call's metadata to look for common characteristics of spam texts. Then, it automatically anonymizes and removes any identifiable information, such as a name or phone number, before determining whether to block it. Finally, the anonymized text message is blocked and stored in Robokiller's database to be monitored and used to flag any similar spam text messages. 

Since Robokiller's launch, the company's been collecting millions of audio and text message fingerprints to ensure that Robokiller stays one step ahead of scammers and robocallers. Though political messages are not the same as phone scams, they use the same infrastructure, which enables Robokiller to identify and monitor political message trends in the United States. 

Why is Robokiller the best solution to stop political messages? 

Robokiller is the best solution to stop political messages because it can automatically block a broader range of known unwanted political messages across its user base of hundreds of thousands of subscribers. So, rather than requesting to unsubscribe from every single political text message, Robokiller does that for you automatically, before your phone even rings. 

Other great Robokiller features you can expect 

Robokiller comes with several other features for call blocking and spam protection. These features include:

  • Real-time spam call protection
  • Hilarious Answer Bots
  • SMS protection so you can reduce spam text messages
  • Personalized block/allow lists
  • Call screening so you can take the guesswork out of unknown calls
  • Customizable call-blocking settings
  • Supports all carriers in the United States/Canada

Click here to try Robokiller for free for 7 days today!

How do political campaign organizations get your information and phone number? 

Political campaigns or organizations may obtain your information and phone number in a few ways.

  1. You provided your phone number when registering to vote. 
  2. You once opted into hearing from a political party. 
  3. Your phone number is associated with your social media profiles and is therefore made publicly available. Some third-party data collection companies will scrape phone numbers off the internet for profit. 

At Robokiller, we always suggest doing a Google search of your cell phone number to see where your phone number may be exposed. Finding out if your number is listed on a website or database not only reduces the chance of incoming political messages, but also illegal spam calls.

Why is it so difficult to stop political messages? 

The reason why political messages are so much harder to stop than other robocalls is that:

  1. Political messages are regulated with different and more lenient restrictions than other robocalls or spam texts. 
  2. Peer-to-peer messaging is sent from a personal phone number, making it difficult to stop all messages from a particular campaign or party. 
  3. There are only so many effective ways to stop unwanted or spam calls or text messages available to Americans. 

Are political text messages legal?

As mentioned in one of the above sections, political text messages and robotexts must oblige the rules set by the TCPA and FCC. These rules state that auto-dialed calls or texts are prohibited to mobile phones without the recipient's prior consent. So, you should report the sender of an incoming political text message if you never consent to receive them.

Why have political robocalling and political texting become more popular as campaign methods?

Much like marketers, politicians, PACs, or other organizations involved in generating support for a political party or candidate are always looking for the best way to reach most Americans at the lowest cost. As the adoption of smartphones has increased in the United States, political messaging has become an affordable and engaging way to reach Americans since they spend most of their time on their smartphones.

And it's effective. In a 2018 study done by the Tech for Campaigns organization, "registered voters between the ages of 27 to 50 turned out at a rate almost 8% higher than those in that same age group that didn't receive text messages. Younger, registered voters (50 and younger) turned out at much higher rates when texted when compared to older (51+) groups."

Political messaging is also cheaper than traditional campaigning methods such as T.V. ads. According to Political Moneyball, sending a political robocall or political text costs less than $1/message. There is another reason political campaigns love using political messaging, particularly peer-to-peer texting. Peer-to-peer texting offers a significant loophole in the consent laws regulated by the FTC for sending mass robocalls and mass robotexts to a cell phone. We'll cover that in more detail later in this post.

How many political messages are sent to Americans every month?

Robokiller estimates that Americans nationwide received 70 million political robocalls and 2.7 billion political text messages related to the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election in September 2020 alone. Check back here for the latest political messaging data from Robokiller.

Why has there been so little known about political messaging in the United States to date? 

There are a few reasons it has been difficult for citizens and regulators to understand the scope and extent of political messaging in our country. 

First, the technological infrastructure of the telecom industry was not designed to understand trends of this nature. Similar to the challenges carriers and networks face with identifying illegal robocalls, there are simply no systems in place to identify specific phone numbers, their sources, and the contents of the call or message. 

Second, it's important to note that many of these political messages are not sent by the political candidates themselves. More often, Super PACs and other third-party campaign organizations are responsible for the large volume of political messages Americans receive.

Following the Citizens United ruling in 2015, Super PACs have played a more significant role in campaign funding with far less scrutiny and forced disclosures than in the past. This is true not only for the donations they collect and distribute to politicians but also for the political messages they send on their behalf. Because there are no disclosures to track how many political messages a Super PAC can send, there has been no knowledge to date of how many they are sending — until now.

Will government regulations be updated to include restrictions on political peer-to-peer texting?

Restrictions on political text messaging have not caught up to the current technology used to work around the laws designed to protect Americans from large amounts of political messages. Though a direct correlation has never been proven, it is also worth noting that some of the same politicians that are using political peer-to-peer texting to generate support or campaign donations are also the same politicians that may be in charge of regulating it. So, there may be mixed incentives for further regulations. 

Because most political peer-to-peer text message campaigns encourage donations, this is a very lucrative channel for some politicians or Super PACS. Think about it this way: if a party and its affiliates send 500 Million political texts in a month and generate only $0.01 in donations from each text they send, they've collected $5M in donations. Reminder: that figure is a per month total

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Use Robokiller to block unsolicited political text messages

At Robokiller, we believe that you shouldn't have to receive any call or text you don't want to. That includes messages from scammers, politicians, debt collectors, or even your family members. We have taken and continue to take active roles in legislation to ensure that protections for Americans from unwanted calls are moving forward, most recently with the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act.

Not all political messages are bad, right?

The unfortunate truth about political messages is that there is a high likelihood that a portion of the political messages Americans receive may be unwanted. It is also likely that a portion of these messages are scams. At Robokiller, we believe there are four areas of political messaging that may become problematic. 

No prior consent and inability to unsubscribe 

Political peer-to-peer text messaging benefits only the sender. By working around the gray areas of consent through manual, individual texting, campaigners are removing the ability to unsubscribe from political text messages. Why? Because in some cases, though you may have requested to stop receiving messages from Jonny B texting you from candidate X's campaign, you are only requesting that the phone number Jonny is texting you from stops contacting you. Because you’ve never unsubscribed from the entire campaign, you may receive more messages from another texter in the future. 

The volume of political messages 

Largely thanks to peer-to-peer messaging, political robocalls and political texts are reaching a concerning level of total monthly volume. At Robokiller, we have observed political robocalls and political text messages reaching levels equivalent to illegal phone scam traffic we see in a given month. 

Without updated restrictions on political peer-to-peer texting and organizations such as Robokiller monitoring the volume and information sent through political messaging, Americans may continue receiving large amounts of political messages in any future political election. 


Until now, there has been little to no insight into the contexts of political messages sent to Americans, and therefore little consequence to anyone using political messaging for fraudulent purposes. Though Robokiller remains unbiased in our call and text monitoring and blocking, there have been recent instances cited by the media this year where concerning information about mail-in or absentee voting has been spread via robocalls. 

Opening the door to phone scammers

Like any major event in the United States, scammers are always watching and waiting in the background to capitalize on new phone scams. Phone scammers are studying and analyzing what political messages look and sound like in order to create their own scams and get money from innocent victims. 

Suggested Reading: Political Phone Scams: What You Need To Know Before Making A Campaign Donation

Political short-codes: How millions in donations are collected via text messages

Short-codes are 5 or 6-digit phone numbers (compared to the standard 10-digit phone number) used by political campaigns to send and receive text messages to solicit campaign donations at scale.

In 2012, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) approved using text messaging to raise funds for political campaigns. The FEC approved two methods to donate via political short-code text message: texting to donate or opting in online.

Method 1: Text a keyword to donate 

The first method requires a person to send an SMS keyword registered to the political campaign. That process typically goes as follows: 

  1. A person texts VOTE to a non-traditional short-code phone number, such as 12456.
  2. That person receives a text message response asking them to confirm their intent to engage in the transaction. 
  3. The person must also certify their eligibility to contribute to the Act and Commission regulations
  4. Once confirmed, the donation is processed through the payment method provided to the person's phone carrier. The donation will appear on the donor's phone bill in their next billing cycle. 

Method 2: Opting in to donate online

The second method requires a person to enter their mobile phone number on a political campaign's website instead of a credit card. That process typically goes as follows: 

  1. A person goes to a website to opt into making a campaign donation, often after seeing a political ad on T.V. or online. 
  2. Before submitting the mobile phone number, the person must certify their eligibility to contribute to the Act and Commission regulations
  3. After that person confirms their eligibility, a text message is sent to that mobile phone with a PIN. 
  4. That person would then enter that PIN back into the political campaign's website to confirm the transaction. 
  5. The payment is still processed through their phone carrier instead of a credit card. The donation will still appear on the donor's phone bill in their next billing cycle. 

According to Politico, in both scenarios, the campaign donor's phone number and identity are supposed to be hidden from the campaign because the payment is processed through the phone carrier for a small fee. At Robokiller, we have yet to find evidence that this is or is not the case.

Are political short-codes regulated the same way as other text messages?

Thankfully, the FEC approval of short-codes also came with heavy restrictions on how these codes could be used. There are over 18 significant restrictions on the use of short-codes for political texting, the most noteworthy being: 

  1. Political campaigns must register and apply to major US phone carriers to receive short-codes for their campaign. But they are limited in how many short-codes they can obtain. 
  2. Wireless carriers can choose whether or not to approve certain political parties from purchasing a short code on their network. 
  3. The wireless customer must have a U.S.-based mobile number to donate.
  4. There is a $50 per month limit on contributions attributed to each mobile phone number to any participating federal candidate, political committee, or political party.

Suggested Reading: Guidelines for Federal Political Campaign Contributions via Wireless Carrier's Bill

A final word on short-codes for political text messaging 

Political short-code texting has been a popular method of soliciting political donations since the 2008 U.S. presidential election. At Robokiller, we see an enormous volume of political text messaging originating from short-codes (as opposed to peer-to-peer) from the official political campaigns (as opposed to Super PACs or other third-party organizations). We believe this is the case for a few reasons: 

  1. Political campaigns are held to a higher ethical standard of compliance with CTIA, FCC, and other telecommunications regulations than less-regulated organizations such as Super PACs. 
  2. Short-codes were designed to send high volumes of text messages and, therefore, less likely to get picked up by spam text-blocking features offered by the phone carriers the campaign purchased the short-codes from. 
  3. Though becoming more popular through developments in new technology, individual phone numbers used in peer-to-peer political texting are often flagged as spam more often than short-codes and are less likely to reach more people.

Peer-to-peer texting: The new era of political campaigning

Political peer-to-peer text messaging, or P2P, is the door-to-door campaigning of the digital era.

Though it has been around for years, P2P texting grew in popularity during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election as an easy and affordable method of reaching many potential voters that politicians and PACs otherwise could not.

What is political peer-to-peer texting?

Political peer-to-peer text messaging is when a volunteer or campaign staff manually sends personal text messages from a private phone number to initiate a conversation with potential voters, instead of sending text messages from an autodialer. 

For peer-to-peer messaging at scale, political campaigns either use third-party platforms such as Opn Sesame or CallHub or utilize campaign funds to build internal p2p technology that meets their campaigning needs. Read more here.

Political peer-to-peer text messaging usually works like this: 

  1. A campaign, PAC, or other organization member volunteers or is paid to help generate support for their particular party or on behalf of a certain politician. 
  2. The individual is given access to a peer-to-peer texting platform sponsored by or built by the PAC or campaign. 
  3. Typically, these individuals are also provided with scripts or common language to use in their text messages. Often, because these text messages have the goal of soliciting donations, the individual is required to use a specific URL in their message to collect donations online. Some URLs contain cookies or tracking to identify recipients who have tapped on a link. 
  4. The individual is given a list of phone numbers the organization would like them to contact. This list can be sourced from publicly available voter registration information, a list of opt-ins generated from the organization itself, or a list purchased from a third-party data vendor. 

Then, the peer-to-peer text platform sends text messages individually to every phone number on the list. Because these text messages are technically sent from a real person, they do not break the consent laws for robotexting to a smartphone without prior consent. 

The peer-to-peer texting consent loophole

In the United States, any robocall or robotext sent from an autodialer must first obtain prior consent from the recipient. For landline phones, prior consent is not required for robocalls sent from autodialers. Political messages are regulated differently in some capacities, but they must follow this rule.

Suggested Reading: TCPA Laws 101

The success of political peer-to-peer text messaging rides on one legal gray area: texting large numbers of people as a "real person" versus sending mass political texts from an autodialer. The basic argument for peer-to-peer texting is that prior consent is not required if the political text messages are sent from an individual phone number versus an autodialer. 

A 2018 article from Vice explains it best: "This text message golden age has operated largely in a legal grey area. Past text-message campaigning was mostly automated "broadcast" texting, which legally required explicit opt-ins with heavy fines for spam. However, most of this year's political texting doesn't require voters to opt-in to be pinged." For example, on July 24th, 2020, President Trump's re-election campaign accused Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile of "suppression of political speech" over the carriers' blocking of spam texts sent by their campaign. Source: Ars Technica

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