No-Call List Is No Worry For Presidential Candidates

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Politicians exempted themselves from compliance with the national no-call list, and they'll use that exemption to the hilt in this year's presidential primaries, political analysts said last week.


The Iowa caucuses, the first test for primary candidates, are Jan. 19, followed by the New Hampshire primary Jan. 24. Seven states then hold contests Feb. 3, a date that likely will mark the end of the line for many of the nine Democratic primary candidates.


Nonprofit calls, including those for candidates and political issues, are exempt from the no-call list. And though telemarketers have warned that many consumers are unaware of the exemption and won't take kindly even to legal telemarketing calls after they registered for the list, this is unlikely to deter candidates from calling, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.


Low voter turnout in primaries means the potential for backlash is limited. In the 2000 Iowa Democratic caucuses pitting Al Gore against Bill Bradley, only 61,000 people voted in a state with more than 2 million eligible voters.


Presidential races are about "big" issues, such as the U.S. military presence in Iraq and the economy, Sabato said. An annoyance like a telemarketing call is unlikely to change a voter's choice given such weighty topics, though such emotions might affect a local election.


The likelihood that a voter in Iowa would drive an hour to vote in a caucus to get back at a candidate in retaliation for a robo-call -- a recorded message distributed by mass voice broadcast -- is small, Sabato said. Given the odds, any candidate with the campaign funds probably will take a chance and call in the primaries.


"Here's the attitude," Sabato said. "Some people may get upset, but we're talking about a small universe of people."


Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, said that from personal experience he observed that in Iowa the breakdown of candidate calls has been split 50-50 between live and robo-calls. Squire said the only candidate he hasn't heard from yet is Al Sharpton.


"I can just attest from my own household that we get several calls a day," he said. "All the campaigns here are very anxious to mobilize voters and are using every device they have at their disposal."


Telemarketing calls are unlikely to change voters' minds about which candidate they support, Squire said. Voters are more likely to hang up on a candidate than to retaliate by changing their vote. Voters are saturated with calls by all the candidates, so it's hard for them to blame any one candidate for calling.


But the calls have been effective in motivating a candidate's supporters to get to the polls, Squire said.


Candidates typically call their supporters in the days just before a vote and then call repeatedly on the day of the vote, Sabato said. Some even offer rides to the polls for supporters who lack transportation.


New campaign finance rules may increase the volume of direct mail and telemarketing from political candidates, Sabato said. The McCain-Feingold rules ban special interest groups from running television or radio ads for a candidate 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.


However, McCain-Feingold doesn't apply to direct mail or telemarketing, so expect interest groups to shift their ad money to those channels, Sabato said.


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