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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Campaigns Take Flak For Using Robocalls

One of the least glamorous devices in politics has landed in the headlines: Republican John McCain is taking criticism for using robocalls, or automated phone calls, to spread negative messages about Democrat Barack Obama. Campaigns like robocalls because they are incredibly cheap and cost a small fraction of a piece of direct mail.

The most recent robocall is a McCain message that accuses Obama of being a radical dupe for terrorists. "Hello. I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC, because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers…" begins one robocall.

This call has caused an uproar — partly for its method and partly for its message. McCain and the Republican National Committee also have a robocall about Obama and abortion. Those who object include Republican senators fighting for re-election. But Sunday on Fox News, McCain said he's not stopping his phone campaign against Obama. "Of course not. These are legitimate and truthful," he said on the program.

Economics Of Robocalls

Studies show that robocalls usually aren't that effective. Dakin says it's their economics that keep them going. "Essentially, all you need to do is buy a computer server with the right software on it, and you have a robocall system. So if they're relatively low quality done over the Internet — called voice over IP — those can be as low as a quarter of a cent a call," he said.

David Magleby is a political scientist at Brigham Young University who studies political communication strategies. He has two possible interpretations of McCain's big push with robocalls. It could be that McCain's campaign is using them instead of far more costly TV ads. Or it could be "that they may not have the volunteer base that the Bush campaign had in 2000 or 2004, and so they're going to robocalls rather than having volunteers call," he added. Either way, McCain's phone operations are so intense, they may set a new standard for robocall saturation and, perhaps, for their impact.

-excerpt from NPR

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