Brexit: Disenfranchised by dire deliverability

As the Brexit situation gets evermore chaotic, Guy Hanson, VP of Professional Services at Return Path, analyses the public shift in sentiment towards political parties’ email campaigns.


With Britain now days away from an exit from Europe (in theory), the Government may finally be realising the British public has changed its mind.

Last October I wrote a blog where email data was already showing this shift. More recently, one million people turned out in London last weekend in support of ‘Put it to the people’ – a second referendum. This shift is also reflected in recent polling – the averaged results from the last six surveys show support for Remain at 54% vs 46% for Leave.

In parallel, this shift in sentiment has also been seen online. The UK Government & Parliament website operates a petitions facility. Anyone can start a petition – if it achieves 10,000 votes the Government will provide a formal response, while 100,000 votes will ensure the petition is considered for a parliamentary debate.

During week of March 18th we saw a petition encouraging voters to support “Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU” and just 1 week later, the petition has secured over six million votes. For context – only four petitions in history have generated more than 1M votes. Voting is a rigorous process (see “why bots probably aren’t gaming the ‘Cancel Brexit’ petition”). Voters have to provide an email address, and their votes are only recorded when a link in the confirmation email is activated. Each email address can only be used once.

However, this rigour also means results are significantly understated. Most petitions are much smaller, and the website is not set up to cope with millions of votes. As a result, Inbox Placement rates (IPRs) took a hit, and around 10% of the confirmation emails failed to deliver to recipient’s inboxes. With Read rates effectively 100% of delivered, a potential 600K votes have gone unrecorded! This problem was exacerbated by emails that did deliver taking many hours to do so as the petition hit peak activity.

This provides a great illustration of how mailbox providers (MBPs) handle unexpected spikes in volume. As the petition gained traction, and the higher volumes first registered, over 1 in 5 of the confirmation emails was placed in spam. However, as positive engagement metrics (Read rate = 89.5%, Not Spam Rate 1.25%, Deleted Unread rate 2.0%) were observed, and the sender gained the trust of the MBPs, IPRs improved, and Spam Placement rates ultimately reduced to 0% as a result.

Article 50 graph

This was clearly reflected when UK Government & Parliament sent out the follow-up email to announce the petition will be debated. Despite being a high-volume, single send to all petition respondents, 99.3% of the emails successfully achieved Inbox Placement, generating an average Read rate of 65.7% (more than 4X higher than the benchmark for this sector).

Brexit has clearly shown the limitations of a political system designed in an analogue past, for an electorate that operates in a digital age. We’re starting to hear calls for a complete overhaul of the UK’s political framework. As this petition has shown, using available technology to gauge current opinions, rather than attempting to deliver mandates that are already three years out of date, would be a good start – provided all voices are heard.

While Brexit has completely polarised the British political landscape, engagement with the process is still surprisingly high, and as these stats from the 3 main political party emails show, average Read rates for all 3 programs have shown a Q on Q uplift:

political party email graph

However we can also see that Spam Filtering rates are trending upwards for both Labour and Lib Dems (they were already running at over 1 in 5 emails for the Conservatives), and this reflects high underlying Complaint rates (especially for Labour) and Deleted Unread rates.

Performance of the political programs is eclipsed by People’s Vote – a grass roots, cross-party campaign advocating for a second referendum. Despite sending daily emails to supporters, this program is generating remarkable engagement. Average Read rates of 36% and negligible Complaint rates (0.07%) are generating phenomenal IPRs of close to 100%!

people's vote email graph

We’ll be keeping a close eye on these performance metrics as the Brexit story continues to play out. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about how these “hidden metrics” impact your email program performance, have a read of our great benchmark report on this topic.

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