Presidential Subject Lines: What Can We Learn?

There is an old adage that goes something like, “If you can’t be part of the solution, at least don’t be part of the problem.” For the purposes of this article, it might be best to table that notion and instead adopt something closer to, “If you can’t be part of the solution, at least try to learn something from the problem.”

The United Kingdom recently held its quinquennial general elections with David Cameron keeping his place at 10 Downing Street and the Conservative Party maintaining the lion’s share of parliament seats. The beauty of elections in the UK is that the campaign season lasts a scant six weeks. When compared to presidential elections in the United States, the time from start to finish is downright velocious.

The current presidential election cycle began on March 23, 2015 (nearly 600 days prior to Election Day) when Ted Cruz announced his candidacy at Liberty University. Since then, he has been joined by the likes of Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. The field is looking crowded already and candidates are wasting no time asking for donations of time and money from would-be supporters. A lot has changed since 2012 (let alone 2008), and those running for president have many options for reaching various constituencies.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of email, which remains the primary means of communication for those seeking the White House. As with any email campaign, the first thing recipients notice is the subject line. Recent research by Return Path shows good subject lines can lead to increased overall engagement with messages. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how some of the candidates fare when it comes to crafting effective subject lines.

Ted Cruz
Subject line:
Exciting news this week!
Character count:
24
Category:
News

The Cruz campaign uses an exclamatory statement to generate interest and beg the question, “what’s so exciting?” This subject line also carries a certain sense of urgency and might even evoke the well-documented “fear of missing out” with the phrase “this week.”

Rand Paul
Subject line:
Thank you so much for signing up to learn about Rand Paul’s campaign for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
Character count:
134
Category:
Personal

The subject line from Rand Paul’s welcome email is lengthy; almost too long to be a tweet. Research shows that subject lines with over 100 characters make up only about 3 percent of all messages and correlate with a dramatic decline in read rates (i.e., opens), averaging 9 percent.

Hillary Clinton
Subject line:
Welcome
Character count:
7
Category:
Personal

Team Hillary takes a minimalist approach when it comes to this subject line. But with most mobile devices only constrained to 25 or 30 characters, it might be interesting to see something a bit more creative and personal.

Marco Rubio
Subject line:
Welcome to the Team
Character count:
19
Category:
Personal

Marco Rubio takes the simplicity of Hillary’s email and adds a sociological component, encouraging subscribers to feel like they are part of a team; something bigger than themselves.

Bernie Sanders
Subject line:
Are you with me?
Character count:
16
Category:
Personal

The only early candidate to use the interrogative is Bernie Sanders, whose subject line is at least a soft call to action. Like Rubio, Sanders is asking supporters to follow or join a group or cause bigger than themselves.

It is important to note that subject lines are as much art as they are science. And when it comes to presidential elections, loyalties can gloss over the occasional misstep. Subject lines won’t make or break a candidate’s following. However, since candidates are using emails to seek more than support (read: money), subject lines can have a significant impact on how many supporters are opening and engaging with emails requesting donations. So, who do you think has the best subject line?


Kevin Kelleher leads marketing for Return Path Consumer Insight line of business. He helps people see how data can be used to make smarter decisions. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys running, reading and fencing.


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