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AOL Is the Campaign Contribution Champion

When it comes to email acquisition in the campaign organizations of presidential candidates, AOL addresses are the gold standard—by a landslide. Fluent, an ad tech platform used by several of those campaigns, tracked cash flow to candidates via the email channel and found that old-guard AOL left newbie ESPs like Gmail and Hotmail in the dust.

“I was on a panel at a D.C. event last week that included a guy from the Republican National Committee. We all said the same thing: Don’t ding AOL users; they’re awesome,” says Jordan Cohen, CMO of Fluent, which presents updates on voter attitudes on its Political Pulse website.

AOL accounts made up just 4% of candidate email lists in the early going of Election 2016, but generated 22% of donation dollars. While dominating lists with a 48% penetration, Gmail users contributed just 13% to the total take. Yahoo and Hotmail users, who together made up more than 30% of names on lists, fell short of AOLers by donating only 19% of campaign cash. Fluent tallied only individual donations, not corporate contributions.

It turns out that members of the population old enough to have actually paid for their email accounts back in the day are also looser with their purse strings when it comes to promoting their political agendas. More than 80% of donation dollars came from people over 50, according to Fluent. Millennials may talk a good political game on social media, but they don’ t back up their views with greenbacks. Just 2% of cash flowed to candidates from people ages 18 to 29. The 30 to 39 bracket added only 6%.

AOL delivered the goods on deliverability, as well, according to eDataSource, which tracks some 25 million email campaigns a day. The Rubio campaign’s inbox placement percentage with AOL was 97%, compared to 76% with Gmail. At Cruz headquarters, the tally was 96% for AOL and 68% for Gmail.

“I suppose the logic is that folks can’t respond to emailed fundraising appeals if that email doesn’t arrive,” says John Landsman, director of strategy and analytics at eDataSource. “But the age thing makes sense. The only people I know who still have AOL addresses might charitably be classified as over 50.”

Fundraising is the key driver of email appeals at this stage of the game, and the candidate doing the best job  is Hillary Clinton, according to Fluent’s Cohen. “It’s data-driven both in who’s getting the emails and what she’s communicating. If you never gave before, she asks for just $1. But if you donated in the past you’ll get the same message with a request for $20,” he says.

Trump’s self-financing of his campaign could prove a negative for him. By not aggressively seeking donations in inboxes, he may be late in building an email list of likely voters, though Fluent reports that his email efforts have developed a weekly cadence. Cohen gives higher marks to the Cruz and Rubio campaigns, which mimic Clinton’s casual, folksy messaging and always ask for donations.

Mobile activity has bolstered email’s importance as an election marketing tool this cycle. Two thirds of presidential candidate emails are opened on mobile devices, and 47% of donations are made through the channel.

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