News that the US Postal Service plans to phase out Saturday mail delivery is one of those “Is the Empire crumbling?” moments that is both more important and less significant than it would seem at first glance.
It’s an important moment because the change would mark the end of weekend deliveries for the first time in 150 years. But, in this era of electronically-transmitted data and information, if someone or some company needs to get a hold of you, it’s not going be accomplished via the mail. After all, it’s not as if Amazon.com won’t be delivering on Saturdays.
The first thing I thought of when I learned that mail would no longer be delivered on Saturdays is the impact this change will have on political campaigns. Direct mail is one of the staples of political communication. In most local campaigns, which are unable to afford pricey television commercials, mail is the primary way campaigns connect with voters. This is especially so when the campaign is attempting to deliver a contrasting or negative message.
The elimination of Saturday mail knocks a leg out from underneath the political direct mail business.
“During the last thirty days of a campaign, when voters are finally paying attention to the candidates and issues, this change takes four or five days off the calendar,” explains political consultant Anthony Pedicini. “That’s big deal when you only have a finite amount of time to deliver a message.”
Echoing Pedicini is Southern Campaign Resources’ Mark Zubaly, who said his firm is already examining the impact the elimination of Saturday mail might have. “This certainly changes our planning. Voters were already making up their mind earlier. This takes the final Saturday off of the table.”
Zubaly disagreed with the contention that taking away the final Saturday might lessen the level of negativity in campaigns, since it removes by one the number of days in the final week for campaigns to trash their opponents. “Campaigns are already attempting to define their opponents weeks, if not months, before an election.”
One more ripple created by this change, Zubaly points out, is that without the final Saturday to utilize, a campaign’s ability to respond will be diminished.