Local Newsletters Proven to Move Voters Ahead of Key Election

A large majority of Americans get their news from digital devices and sources, including email newsletters — that’s why COURIER has invested time and resources in building robust daily and weekly newsletter programs across our eight newsrooms to keep our audiences informed about their local communities. Building relationships with our core audience over email also gives us a competitive advantage in an increasingly decentralized media environment where too many news outlets continue to rely on shallow websites and social impressions to understand their audiences.

Our audience is made up of less politically engaged Americans — folks who vote infrequently, if ever. But, when they are informed and engaged, they are the difference makers in close elections. 50% of our core audience voted for the very first time after the 2016 elections, so turning these folks into regular, informed voters is our top priority. 

In October of 2022, COURIER set out to test how building trust with our newsletter audiences impacts their political awareness and opinion during a midterm election. To do this, we set out to A/B test two versions of our regularly-delivered weekly newsletters, where one group of subscribers would receive a typical COURIER newsletter containing both local lifestyle reporting about where to eat out next weekend or the best pumpkin patches in their state (what we refer to as “the sugar”) and some political reporting on the local midterm elections and candidates running in our states, or what we call “the vegetables.” The other group would receive the same newsletter but without any of our respective state newsrooms’ political reporting included. 

We found that of our newsletter subscribers, folks who saw local reporting on the midterm elections and candidates running for office in their states and communities within our newsletters showed a five percentage point swing in their likelihood to support candidates who shared their values. Furthermore, we found that individuals who had been subscribers to our newsletters for longer than 8 months were the most likely to change their minds, validating our greater hypothesis that building long term trust with our audiences can shape their civic awareness and engagement.

Here’s how we did it.

In early October, a survey on political views was sent to 391,356 COURIER email newsletter subscribers across our eight state newsrooms. The 4,088 subscribers who responded were then separated into two groups: One receiving newsletters with political reporting included, and another receiving a nearly identical newsletter with strictly non-political news coverage (lifestyle content, community news, etc.). A second survey, sent to both of these groups two days after the 2022 midterm election, showed the group who had received newsletters containing political news coverage increased their net support for Democratic candidates by five more percentage points relative to the initial survey than the group receiving non-political content.

What was some of that political news content, you ask? It was a mix of factual reporting on candidates on both sides of the aisle running in some of the most competitive statewide and local races in each of our states, as well as civic information for our audiences on where, how and when to vote in the midterm elections.Here’s what some of the political headlines and stories included in our traditional newsletter looked like:

Building trust and long-term relationships with our audience by reaching them year-round, without pause, is a core tenant of COURIER’s mission and model, and what differentiates COURIER from all other paid digital advertising programs and strategies that seek to boost civic engagement and participation in our democracy. Through our civic reporting, we highlight the good that government and politicians do when they do it, while calling out elected officials and candidates committed to dismantling or obstructing progress in Washington and statehouses across the country in order to advance their extreme agendas. As a result, our audience is better informed and motivated to participate in elections in line with their values. 

Further analysis of the group who increased their support for Democratic candidates found the largest movement was among subscribers without a college degree, self-identified independents, and women. Subscribers who have been receiving our newsletters for over 8 months were also more likely to move than those who had more recently subscribed. 

The results of this experiment clearly demonstrate COURIER’s local reporting on elections and candidates from our state news outlets is most effective with people that have a long-term relationship with our newsrooms.

Email subscribers in the group who received the political newsletters were also four percentage points more likely to self-identify as Democrats after Election Day than the control group. As these readers became more informed of the facts and the stakes of the election, they increasingly identified with a party that shared their values. 

This test serves as yet another proof point for the efficacy of COURIER’s model. We deliver high quality civic journalism to audiences whose trust we earn by reporting for and from their communities year-round. Our coverage, in turn, encourages increased civic participation and support for candidates with positions that align with their (and our) values.

To learn more about our efforts to prove our model, take a look at similarly positive test results from recent in-field experiments our team has carried out in Virginia, Iowa, and Michigan.

To read first-hand the newsletters from our states, click here to subscribe.

If you are interested in supporting this critical work, please consider becoming a contributor by making a gift to COURIER or one of our local newsrooms here

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