Although I don’t actually claim that Bush won because of usability, I do think that wise use of email newsletters contributed to his victory. I analyzed the email newsletters sent out by both candidates in the week prior to the election….
Kerry supporters were bombarded by repeated fundraising requests, to the extent that many of them probably tuned out the newsletter in the final critical days. Although the Internet is great for collecting money from the masses, there is a limit. Kerry exceeded it. Bush sent more messages than Kerry asking supporters to get other voters to go to the polls and vote for him. This is a more appropriate use of the newsletter medium because it connects emotionally with subscribers. Being treated as an active participant in the civics process is more motivating than being regarded as an open wallet.
Bush also repeatedly sent out information that promoted himself and attacked his opponent in relation to current events (such as the Osama video). This is a good strategy: offering newsworthy content makes subscribers more likely to continue opening newsletters. Up-to-the-minute arguments are a classic use of email and gave Bush’s supporters fodder in their get-out-the-vote efforts, thus reinforcing the newsletter’s value in getting voters to the polls. In summary, Kerry used his newsletter to collect money. Bush used his to increase voter turnout, and he won because he was better at turning out his base. Understanding the strength of email newsletters thus directly contributed to Bush’s victory, so his Internet team can claim some credit for the outcome.
The Dean campaign made the same error. Unfortunately, that institutional memory wasn’t transferred to the Kerry campaign.