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Science Of Campaign Mail A Source Of Controversy For Some

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If you're a registered voter in New York City, there's a good chance your mailbox is overflowing with campaign literature, a communication strategy that might seem outdated, but there is a real science to direct mail, as well as some controversy. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

For candidates, there are many ways to reach voters, from debate performances to TV ads. They can also reach voters through glossy campaign literature stuffed in mailboxes. Even in the digital age, mail is popular as ever, cheaper than TV and more targeted.

"The benefit is, a - you can be in a council race and only hit those voters that you think are likely to vote, and b - you can even divide it down into subsets of that electorate to specifically talk to women, men, people of specific ethnicities, people of a certain age," said Democratic consultant Doug Forand.

Indeed, not only is mail tailored based on your party registration, past voting history and other publicly available information, consultants like Jerry Skurnik use other tools like census data to guess your income level, occupation and ethnicity.

"We run the name through an ethnic dictionary, which is not 100 percent accurate. It's based on last name," Skurnik said. "We jokingly tell, you know, Whoopi Goldberg is going to be listed as a Jewish voter and Eddie Murphy as an Irish voter."

To stand out, some mailers take different shapes, highlight prominent endorsements or caricature an opponent. This year, outside groups are spending heavily. United for the Future, representing the teachers' union, has spent nearly $400,000 on William Thompson mailers. Jobs for New York, representing real estate interests, has already spent $1.35 million on City Council races, much of it on mailers often using similar templates.

On Tuesday, a group of City Council members announced that they are proposing legislation that would require more disclosure from groups like Jobs For New York, including a warning label right on the campaign mailers themselves.

"It probably won't be able to say, like a cigarette label, 'This mailing is toxic to democracy,' but it absolutely will be able to say, 'This mailing is funded by an independent expenditure, which is not regulated under New York City's campaign finance system," said City Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn.

Even if passed, the legislation wouldn't take effect this election cycle.

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