Hell on your cell: Arizonans got 50 million campaign robotexts this fall

(Video by John Brown/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – It’s not just the elections that are heating up as the campaign season enters the final days – phones are heating up, too, with a torrent of political robocalls and robotexts.

Almost 50 million political robotexts were sent to Arizona phones in September and October alone, according to the latest estimates by RoboKiller, a company that markets a spam-blocking app. It said Arizonans also got just over a million robocalls in the same period.

They were just part of the estimated 2.2 billion in robotexts and 53 million campaign robocalls that were sent nationwide in the same period.

“It seems that political texting is definitely here to stay as a mechanism of generating voter support and voter fundraising,” said Giulia Porter, a vice president of marketing at RoboKiller.

Arizona’s numbers were only good enough for 14th place among states on texts and 19th on calls. But that was more than enough for Lexi King, a senior studying social work at Arizona State University.

“It is definitely annoying, even though I like to be politically active,” King said last month.

The calls and texts keep coming despite the fact that the Federal Communications Commission considers most political robotexts illegal. Under FCC regulations, campaigns can send robotexts to anyone who opts in to receive them, or they can text voters manually, having a worker dial each recipient’s number instead of using autodialing technology.

Related story

The RoboKiller data showed that political robotexts in Arizona were relatively constant through the fall, with 24.3 million sent in September and 25.2 million texts sent in the month of October. Robocalls dipped from 653,660 in September to 360,030 in October.

But the parties differed on how they reached out to voters, with Arizona Republicans three times as likely to robotext and Democrats more than twice as likely to resort to robocalls.

“I think one of the things that we’re seeing is that as the rise of attacks via text has increased, we see the rise in Republicans using it as a way to affordably and quickly go after an opponent,” said Paul Bentz, senior vice president at Arizona-based Highground Consultants.

Over the years, Bentz said he has seen Democrats use phone-calling strategies more than Republicans. That’s still true this election season.

“When it comes to things like door-to-door and phone banking, those were often much more used methodologies by Democrats,” he said.

While the messages and calls can be annoying, they can also have a positive side if they encourage people to be civically engaged, said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

“To an extent, robocalls are reminding voters to vote,” Kamarck said. “Whether they can vote early or vote absentee, they’re actually positive.”

People who are tired of unsolicited robotexts can message the FCC at 7726 – or “s-p-a-m” – or file a complaint at fcc.gov/complaints. Arizona residents can also can file a consumer complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office at azag.gov/complaints/consumer.

But the end may be in sight, with Election Day on Tuesday. And for those who can’t wait that long, Bentz has another suggestion.

“If you’re sick of them, I have the secret for you: Return your ballot,” he said. “The sooner you vote, the sooner you’ll be left alone.”

John Brown jahn brown (he/him/his)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

John Brown expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Brown has previously interned at MSNBC, NBC 5 Chicago and PBS NewsHour West.