In presidential elections, there are only a small number of uncommitted voters who could be persuaded by campaign tactics, so increasing the turnout of a candidate's base—getting existing supporters to actually go to the polls to vote—is extremely important. In a close election, targeted application of research findings can make the difference between winning and losing.
The presenter in the video below is Todd Rogers, a psychologist who does political behavior research at the Harvard Kennedy School. The first 35 minutes of the video is lecture and the last 10 minutes is Q&A. Rogers is an engaging presenter and he covers cutting-edge tactics that aren't discussed in the press echo chamber. If you're the kind of person who likes to be politically well-informed, this video is for you.
I'll give you a quick summary of the presentation, but it will be well-worth your while to set aside 35 minutes to watch and learn how voter-turnout research is conducted and how the findings are applied to campaigns.
First, researchers have found that the more personal the approach, the more turnout is increased. All other things being equal, door-to-door, is more effective than live phone calls, which are more effective than mailings, which are more effective than robo calls. Okay, not surprising, but there's more.
The old approach to increasing voter turnout was based on a rational-motivation model of behavior. As we know, this approach represents a flawed understanding of motivation and behavior. Alan Gerber and Don Green at Yale studied the old get-out-the-vote-scripts that were based on this flawed approach, testing each element of the approach in large-scale field experiments during real campaigns. These were experiments with isolated, manipulated, independent variables, so we can infer not just correlation, but causation.
The old scripts assumed that people would be more likely to vote if the pitch emphasized:
It's easy to vote (turns out this has no impact on turnout)
A great deal is at stake (no impact on turnout)
The election is going to be very close, so your vote matters (no impact)
It’s your civic duty (no impact).
In other words, the old methods were worthless. Further research has revealed more about what does work. Among the recent findings, effective scripts:
Emphasize identity over action.
Don't ask: how important is to you that you vote? Ask: how important is it for you to be a voter?
Emphasize that there is going to be a big turnout for this election.
People follow the crowd.
Elicit a pledge to vote.
Turnout increases among those who make a commitment to vote.
Add accountability for the pledge.
For example, mention that we might contact you again after the election to ask how your voting experience went.
Get people to make a plan.
It turns out that people are more likely to vote if they have a plan for where they'll vote, when they'll go and how they'll get there. It also turns out that this tactic only has an effect in single-voter households, so this finding should be applied and targeted toward potential voters who live alone.
The video of Rogers' presentation is below the fold.