The myths and reality of the political mailing red tag

If your campaign is sending out bulk campaign mailings, you’re going to hear about—andneed to understand—political red tags*.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about red tags in terms of how they impact the speed and quality of your mail service. This often leads to unrealistic expectations over how the post office will handle red-tagged mailings.

This week, we’ll give you a quick primer on the red tag: what it is, why it’s used, and how your campaign benefits from it, while also clearing up a common misconception.

What is a “red tag” anyway?


Understanding how the political red tag (officially known as “Tag 57, Political Campaign Mailing”) works will make your campaign direct mail efforts go more smoothly.

If you’re new to political campaigns you may not realize that every political bulk mailing is allowed to have a political red tag attached to each one of the letter trays or sacks of mail being entered into the bulk mail system.

If you’re using a professional mailshop to prepare your mail, they’ll take care of obtaining and attaching the red tags. If your campaign is preparing bulk mailings in-house, you obtain the tags from the bulk mail unit of your post office. There’s no charge for the tags.

In 2012, the Postal Service expanded which mailers are eligible to use red tags for campaign-related mailings. The tag may now be used by any of the following groups when sending mail related to an election, issue advocacy or voter mobilization:

  • Candidate Committees
  • Party Committees
  • Political Action Committees
  • Super PACs
  • Non-Profits
  • Corporations
  • Business leagues and social welfare organizations


How the red tag impacts your mailing

Postal workers often view red-tagged mail as a hot potato because when it gets screwed up while in their hands, it means a screaming politician–possibly even one that can impact postal operations or jobs. 

No one wants to be holding a red-tagged mailing when a supervisor comes looking for it because a politician is yelling about their mail not hitting. That’s one (unofficial) reason the Postal Service makes an effort to expedite mail with red tags.

The red tag makes your sacks and trays of mail more visible in the postal stream. Postal workers are likely to bump red-tagged mail to the front of the line for processing in standard mail plants and postal units 

The Postal Service also logs each red tag mailing when it enters their facility and when it leaves it to go to another facility. This helps them track down mailings that have gotten hung up in the process, or worse, misdirected to the wrong post offices. In our experience, this logging doesn’t happen as consistently as one might hope, but is helpful when done.

The red tag is removed by Postal Service employees when the tray of mail is put into the processing equipment or the sack of mail is opened for handling. At that point in the postal stream it is generally fairly close to its final stop and is being blended into the larger mail stream for carrier-level sorting.

Red tags do not guarantee first-class service

Finally, let’s bust one myth that we always hear during political mail season–that red-tagged mail is handled as first class mail. That’s not really true.

First, understand that there is absolutely no guarantee on how fast the Postal Service will deliver your bulk mailings.

The best you get is what USPS calls a service standard. This is their goal for how long itshould take something to be delivered depending on where it’s deposited, where it’s going and what class of service is paid for. You can see all of the different service standards here.

If you’re sending standard mail with red tags and entering it into the regional bulk mail facility (known as a Sectional Center Facility or SCF) that directly serves the zip codes your mail is ultimately going to, it may be in homes the next day. It may also hit in 3 or more days. It’s not a precise process.

That said, we are aware of numerous instances where the Postal Service has actually handled political mail like first class mail in the days leading up to an election. Like we said before, they see it as a hot potato and don’t want to have it in their hands on Election Day.

But understand that USPS has no obligation to provide first class service for red-tagged mail. If you’re paying standard mail rates, you shouldn’t depend on first-class service as you plan your mail schedule.  

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