During the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama’s team tested everything in fundraising emails that could possibly be tested — subject lines, email copy and list segmentation. The only factor that delivered big results was tailoring messages to a person’s previous actions, i.e., their past behavior.
Here at Votenet we continue to study academic papers about political and behavioral science field experiments so we can recommend election and voting event marketing tactics that are based on science and will deliver results. Based on our research, we recommend segmenting your voters (or members) into at least two groups so you can use specific messages for each:
- Those who haven’t voted in the past or, if you don’t have that data, inactive members
- Previous voters or active members
The science behind the art of voter mobilization
In an experiment conducted during the 2005 New Jersey gubernatorial election, behavioral psychologist Todd Rogers and political scientist Alan Gerber randomly selected voters who would get a phone call with one of two messages. The first group was told that the most recent gubernatorial election had the highest turnout in decades with a vast majority of eligible New Jersey voters actually voting. The second group was told that the turnout was the lowest it had been in more than 30 years. The people who heard the first, more positive message had a turnout rate five points higher than those who heard the second, more dismal message.
In the 2008 Pennsylvania presidential primary, Rogers ran two controlled studies that again delivered a high turnout message to one group and a low turnout message to the other. As in 2005, high turnout messages were more effective at motivating voters than messages emphasizing low expected turnout. However, this time the effect was only found among citizens who voted infrequently or occasionally.
Ask non-voters and inactive members to join the crowd.
Tell non-voters and inactive members that voter turnout is expected to be higher than in the past, and invite them to join their fellow voters and members by voting. Rogers says this approach works “because people are fundamentally social beings, and so the behavior of others influences their behavior.” In future Voting Strategist posts, we’ll continue to explore the powerful effects of social norms and influence.
Micro-goals create a sense of purpose and urgency for voters.
The Obama campaign team used another familiar tactic that supports the “join the crowd” approach: setting micro-goals. Ask your voters and members to help your organization reach a micro-goal, for example: “If 18 more members vote today, we’ll be ahead of our turnout projection” or some variation of that.
Public radio stations effectively use the micro-goal tactic toward the end of an hour of fundraising: “Only six more pledges and we’ll meet our goal.” Think about how often you hear that during NPR fundraising campaigns. And think about how often you hear them say they met their hourly goal. It works nearly every time.
Stay tuned for more Voting Strategist posts that will help you develop strategies and tactics to increase turnout for your elections and voting events.