Manipulative practices are the norm in political emails: evidence from 100K emails from the 2020 U.S. election cycle

Abstract

Manipulative political discourse undermines voters’ autonomy and thus threatens democracy. Using a newly assembled corpus of more than 100,000 political emails from over 2,800 political campaigns and organizations sent during the 2020 U.S. election cycle, we find that manipulative tactics are the norm, not the exception. The majority of emails nudge recipients to open them by employing at least one of six manipulative tactics that we identified; the median sender uses such tactics 43% of the time. Some of these tactics are well known, such as sensationalistic subject lines. Others are more devious, such as deceptively formatted From: lines that attempt to trick recipients into believing that the message is a continuation of an ongoing conversation. Manipulative fundraising tactics are also rife in the bodies of emails. Our data can be browsed at electionemails2020.org.

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