Israeli Politicians Spending Big Bucks to Phone and Text Potential Voters

Political parties are targeting voters, particularly Haredim, with text messages. You may not like it but it's legal.

During this election campaign, have you gotten a text message from Shelly? Or a phone call from Yair? Well, you're not alone.

The budget for telecom advertising and polls for the 2013 Knesset race reached tens of millions of shekels. The parties have sent text messages, made robocalls and conducted telephone polls. Ultra-Orthodox parties are said to be using phones to reach out to constituents more than anyone else, as their voters don’t have televisions or use the Internet.

“Every instant message to a voter costs NIS 0.05 to NIS 0.10 and a phone call costs about NIS 0.15 per minute," said Nitzan Gutman, CEO of the telephone services group Shtrudel, which operates a special elections phone system called Voter that is serving a number of parties, among them Meretz, Shas and Am Shalem. "If you add features like a telephone poll (“If you support X, press 1, if you oppose Y, press 2” and so on), it makes the service more expensive.”

The parties can also address their target audiences, choosing one message for Ofakim and another for somewhere else, adds Gutman.

Teleclal-Telemesser, another competitor in the field of phone-based election campaigns, is serving nearly all the parties.

"It's money time"

Gutman is also quick to point out that such messaging tactics are legal, even if the average citizen feels harassed.

“The spam law does not apply to politicians because the language of the law prohibits spam when it is for purposes of making a profit or find-raising," Gutman said, adding that under the Political Parties Law everyone has access to the registry of all eligible voters, but this registry does not contain phone numbers. "For this, the parties purchase databases from companies permitted to sell them," he said.

These data companies add a mobile phone number to an individual's ID number by using Bezeq's phone directory or accumulate data using other methods, Gutman said.

He went on to explain that until the mobility law was passed, which allows people to keep their number even when they switch cell phone service providers, people used to change numbers more frequently. "It was customary to say that every year the previous list was eroded by 20 percent," Gutman said. "Nowadays people keep their number and the lists are eroded only by a few percentage points.”

The existing lists are not complete, but altogether they contain about 1.8 million land line numbers and about 1.5 million mobile phone numbers.

Most of the better known polling companies traditionally target land lines and are liable to miss entire population groups that have only mobile phone numbers, like many young people, Gutman said.

Polling companies have begun to conduct cellular surveys only in recent weeks.
The telephone surveys include hundreds of thousands of citizens – as opposed to public opinion polls published by the media outlets, which cover only hundreds of people.

The telephone systems have other advanced capabilities, like managing field activists, tracking polling places and estimating voter turnout among supporters.
“The process is divided in two: Up until the end of this past week the effort was to locate supporters, for example, to suggest that they hang a banner from their balcony," Gutman said.

"Now is money time. The battle is no longer to persuade, but rather to increase voter turnout rates – to send voters to the polling station,” said Gutman, who expects increased messaging today and tomorrow.