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Trump Versus Clinton: Research From Return Path Shows How the Candidates Stack Up on the Battleground of Email

Return Path’s Email for President tool reveals key trends that have shaped the 2016 presidential election.

NEW YORK, November 3, 2016 — The 2016 presidential election has been unlike any the US has seen before, and research from data solutions provider Return Path demonstrates the important role that email has played for both of the major party candidates’ campaigns. Throughout the election cycle, Return Path’s Email for President tool has generated head-to-head comparisons of the candidates’ email programs, to reveal unique insights about their respective performance among potential voters.

Many of Return Path’s insights have contributed to the ongoing narrative around the 2016 presidential election. The following are just a few of the key trends and data points Return Path has analyzed based on data from more than 2.5 million consumer inboxes during the months leading up to next week’s election:

  • Hillary Clinton started the campaign with a clear advantage in email list size. It goes without saying, a larger email list allows candidates to reach more potential supporters. Trump’s relatively small subscriber list came as no surprise, given that his campaign had to build its email list from scratch while Clinton cultivated her database over many years on the political scene. And while Trump’s list has grown over the course of the campaign, it remained significantly smaller than Clinton’s list until recently when he saw a significant jump in list size. At its peak, Trump’s list was 20 percent larger than Clinton’s, and he now has a nine percent advantage in list size. To achieve this gain, however, it appears Trump may have purchased lists to build his email database—which can do more harm than good in terms of deliverability.
  • Trump’s early email fundraising efforts were hampered by spam filtering. Although Trump abandoned his attempt at a self-funded campaign in early May, he didn’t turn to his email subscribers for donations until June 21, when he sent a fundraising campaign titled “The First One.” Unfortunately for him, 60 percent of these emails were filtered to spam and never reached the subscriber’s inbox. As it turns out, the fundraising email was sent from a new, untested domain, which spam filters didn’t recognize as a legitimate sender. (Trump now sends email from four different domains, with varying spam rates.) While the Trump team has stated the campaign raised $40 million in two weeks, that total could have been much higher given that his inbox placement hovered around 35 percent throughout that time.
  • Trump’s subscribers have been highly engaged, when his emails reach their inboxes. Despite Clinton’s larger initial audience, Trump’s core group of subscribers proved to be highly receptive to his messages. Early in the campaign, Trump consistently bested Clinton in email open rate, a critical measure of subscriber engagement. However, Trump experienced a significant dip in open rate following the fundraising campaign discussed above, and it has failed to completely bounce back. As of late October, Clinton’s open rate stood at 18 percent and Trump’s at 12 percent—both above the 11 percent industry average.
  • Clinton’s adherence to email best practices has yielded results. Hillary Clinton’s entire email program runs through a single, certified sending domain, with around 96 percent of emails reaching their intended inbox. Clinton’s email campaigns are highly targeted and rigorously tested, with multiple variations for different segments of her subscriber list. As a result, Clinton’s complaint rate (which measures the number of subscribers who mark emails as spam) has been virtually zero throughout the campaign, while Trump has seen complaints as high as 20 percent in recent weeks.

“Despite the many and varied communication channels available to them, email remains one of the most critical avenues for political candidates to rally voters and raise donations,” said Tom Sather, Return Path’s senior director of research. “As we’ve seen in this election, a successful email program can keep the campaign machine humming, while email mis-steps can be incredibly damaging.”

The Email for President tool showcases Return Path’s data capabilities around the 2016 presidential election, but it’s just one example of how Return Path can reveal the inner workings of an email program. With Return Path’s tools and solutions, marketers can gain insights that go beyond simple opens and clicks to ensure that every email is reaching its intended target, delivering a relevant message, and maximizing ROI.


Campaign analysis in the Email for President tool compares each candidate’s email data in categories like email list size, open rate, spam rate, and complaint rate. All data is updated daily, based on a 30-day average ending on the date shown. Information provided by Return Path uses global consumer data captured from the Return Path Data Cloud, based on activity from an opt-in panel of more than 2.5 million active consumer inboxes. Learn more about the Return Path Data Exchange on our website.

About Return Path

Return Path analyzes the world’s largest collection of email data to show businesses how to stay connected to their audiences and strengthen their customer engagement. Our data solutions help analysts understand consumer behavior and market trends. We help mailbox providers around the world deliver great user experiences and build trust in email by ensuring that wanted messages reach the inbox while spam doesn’t. To find out more about Return Path Email Optimization and Consumer Insight solutions, visit us at or request a demo.