March 7, 2005

The Politics of Spam

The last election cycle saw unprecedented use of the internet by political and advocacy groups, including emailings by political candidates. Do email users consider such messages to be spam or not?

In June, 2003, we first asked email users what kinds of messages they would define as spam. As a gauge, just over 90% of emailers agreed that “unsolicited commercial email from a sender you don’t know or can’t identify” to be spam. When we asked the question again in January, 2005, the number hovered just below 90%.

We also asked emailers about political messages. In June, 2003, 74% of emailers considered “unsolicited email from a political or advocacy group” to be spam. A year and a half later, months that spanned the 2004 campaign and election cycle, that number had dropped. In January, 2005, 66% percent of emailers considered unsolicited political or advocacy email to be spam, a statistically significant difference.

In November of 2004, we took the question from the hypothetical to the real. We asked those users who had received or sent campaign-related email, how much of that email they considered to be spam. Some 52% said they considered at least some of it to be spam (14% said all of it; 17% said most of it; 21% said some of it), and 44% said they considered very little or none of it to be spam.