In a “social media age,” both Obama and Romney are spending millions on direct mail. The RNC has spent over $100 million on mail costs; the DNC has spent about $70 million.
Why are campaigns still using direct mail when we have all this technology available (e-mail, social media, radio, television, etc.)? Because compared to radio and television advertising, direct mail is a relatively inexpensive way to reach voters (and allows you to target specific audiences, e.g., by focusing on voters with only general election history as opposed to hitting solid Republican or Democratic voters).
And compared with e-mail or social media (generally referring to Twitter or Facebook), your message can reach a broader audience. It takes time to build e-mail lists, and your list will most likely be made up of supporters. Similarly, it takes time to build a sizable social media following, and again, your audience will primarily be supporters (and possibly opponents and reporters). E-mail and social media are great for activating your base of support (as is direct mail: Green & Gerber, Get Out The Vote, pp. 49-62), but you will not reach a significant number of persuadable voters.
As a voter that has only voted in one Republican primary in Travis County (this year), I received direct mail pieces from both candidates in the Texas House District 48 race. I received mail from the Republican candidate Robert Thomas and Democratic candidate Donna Howard.
Dan Egan writes that direct mail goes back at least as far as McGovern’s 1972 campaign; however, it actually goes back even farther. Writing of Southern politics in 1949, V. O. Key noted that one of the large campaign expenditures in Texas was the extensive use of direct mail, which would cost around $50,000 to send second class mail statewide and $80-90k to send first class mail (Southern Politics in State and Nation, p. 469). One could even argue the practice goes as far back as the 1800s, e.g., during the 1828 campaign, Congressmen used their franking privilege to mail partisan materials to voters in their districts (Parsons, The Birth of Modern Politics, p. 135).
Direct mail continues to be used, despite the emergence of new technologies, whether that be radio, television or the internet, because it is a cheap and relatively effective means of persuading voters.
Related: Social media’s desultory effects on the campaign - in which a claim is made that social media “begins to drive the political conversation” despite 60 percent of internet users surveyed saying social media has not influenced their political opinion.