When you understand why people behave as they do, you can use that knowledge to your organization’s advantage. Marketers learn these behavioral science principles to create compelling copy and images. Political scientists do the same type with get-out-the-vote campaigns.
In Pennsylvania, during the 2008 presidential primary, infrequent voters received a call asking if they planned to vote in the primary. Then, a randomly selected group of those voters were asked three questions:
- About what time do you expect you’ll head to the polls on Tuesday?
- What do you think you’ll be doing before you head to the polls that day?
- Where do you expect you’ll be coming from when you head to the polls?
The callers had no interest in their answers. But, Todd Rogers, the man behind this field experiment, was interested in their actions after the call. Rogers, a behavioral scientist and Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, was testing a psychological concept: implementation intentions. He wanted to learn whether people are more likely to perform an action, in this case, voting, if they have already visualized doing it.
His experiment revealed that scripts prompting people to think through the logistical details of their plans for voting are more than twice as effective as standard scripts that simply ask people if they intend to vote. “When people articulate the how, when, and where they plan to implement an intended behavior, they are more likely to follow through,” he said. “This shows that cognitive planning and mechanical logistics, not just motivation, are part of the voting decision.”
- When are you planning to vote?
- Do you know your polling location?
- How are you going to get there?
- Do you have someone you want to vote with?
Help your voters make a plan.
You can try these same presidentially approved tactics with your voters. You could ask leaders, volunteers and other influencers to discuss voting plans with others in online communities, on social platforms or in person. However, there is a quicker, more effective way to reach many voters, especially if you don’t have the resources to call each one.
During the first few days of the election, email a poll to those who haven’t yet voted. Tell them their answers will help you to understand and improve the voting experience:
- What day/time of day do you anticipate voting?
- Will you vote while you’re at work, home or somewhere else?
- Do you plan to vote by paper ballot, online or by phone? What device will you use to access the online voting platform?
- Is there anything you need to learn about the voting process, candidates or issues before you vote? How will you do that?
“There’s a lot of research showing that thinking through the actual moment when you will do something makes it more likely that the behavior will pop into your mind at the appropriate time,” said Rogers. Your voters’ answers will provide useful knowledge for your election marketing and management efforts, but more importantly, the first three questions will help them start the planning process – the When, Where and How of voting.