Red Tag Political Mail - What Is It?

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Stack of mail - Red Tag Political Mail

Red Tag Political Mail, Does Your Mail Qualify?

Red tag political mail is a mystery to some. You may wonder how the United States Postal Service (USPS) treats the massive amount of campaign mail that moves through the postal system each election. The "secret" is red tag political mail US postal service tag 57 – a container tag that is designed to give more visibility to political mail, so it is given expedited status but sent as bulk mail. We write about this in our direct mail e-book. The USPS has an effective system for identifying political mail and moving it quickly through the mail stream and into mailboxes before Election Day. Qualified election mail is given special treatment by the USPS that expedites its movement through the postal system. When campaign mail is sorted and processed by the mail house and packaged for delivery to the postal facility, each tray, sack, and pallet of election mail is affixed with a special red tag. This red tag alerts all postal facilities in the chain that the mail is political and afforded expedited processing through the mail stream (meaning it should be treated as First Class mail).

Getting a Red Tag on Your Political Mail 

Red tag 57 can be used for any political campaign mailing by a registered political candidate, campaign committee, committee of a political party, political message mailing by a Political Action Committee (PAC), Super-PAC, or other organization engaging in issue advocacy or voter mobilization. Tag 57 is a red container tag designed to provide visibility to a political mail campaign while it’s in the mail stream.

Volume of Red tag mail:

During the election cycles, mail volume increases and the mail with the lowest standard of service takes the brunt. Service standards of the USPS are determined by postage paid: Express, Priority, First Class (& 1stbulk), Standard bulk (& nonprofit). At the low end of postage costs and service standards is Standard Bulk Mail, including nonprofit.

Reducing your red tag mail costs: 

The USPS gives discounts on this standard bulk mail, as they have the mailer perform some of the USPS tasks like sorting and bundling, so they can charge a lower postage rate. Mail prepared this way is cost effective, but not reliable for determining arrive-at-mailbox dates. If you mail a piece during a slow time, your mail could hit your target mailboxes within 1-5 days; but if it is a busy time of year, it could be 10-20 days and there is no guarantee and no way for mailers to control this. Once the USPS is in procession of your mail, it is under their control.

For profit vs non-profit red tag mail: 

Red tag political direct mail is sent via for profit mail permit if sent directly by a candidate. Red tag mail is non-profit if a state party pays for it and sends it out. Nonprofit mail is significantly cheaper that for profit mail, but both move as fast with a red tag.    

Load leveling: 

Compounding this inconsistent factor is “load leveling” policy, where mail standards are loosened even more for bulk mail entered at USPS facilities on Fridays and weekends. The USPS gets overwhelmed for Monday deliveries and are currently trying to distribute mail evenly through the week for more consistent carrier workloads, thus making your in-home dates anything but consistent.

No one really thinks about the intricacies of mail (do you?). People stamp their letters and drop them in the mailbox and voilà! The same holds true for receipts, you open your mailbox and there they are, those ever so predictable bills. For political mail, there is a hard deadline, ELECTION DAY.  Persuasion mail isn’t effective if it arrives the day after the election.

How long does red tag mail take to drop? 

The red tag, USPS tag 57, should always be requested for your political mailings.  These tags should help your mail make it to the top of the bulk mail pile and to your targeted mailboxes we estimate 2 to 4 days from a SCF (sectional center facility) mail drop but depending where you are (urban or rural), the size of the mail piece (letter or flat), and the density of the population political mail could move faster or slower.

Tracking Red tag mail: 

Red tag political mail is also tracked and logged at each stage of the USPS chain. Each facility keeps a political mail log for this purpose so the campaign mailers received at the facility can be noted and logged upon receipt. In the past, this was one of the few ways we could track mail. Fortunately, we now have more accurate methods for tracking election mail in the postal stream. 

Red tag saves money and time:

The bottom line is red tag political mail is a big cost savings and time saver for political campaigns. So, paint your message as blue as you can, but, please, for political mail, always tag it red.