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Promise Made: I Will Vote. Promise Kept.

April 15, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Shaun Tomson, a successful businessman who was once a world champion surfer, received the worst phone call ever. His 15 year old son had accidentally asphyxiated himself in an attempt to get high. His son’s death led Thomson to think deeply about the dangerous choices – drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors – that teenagers make.

He also reflected on what decades on his surf board had taught him about life – lessons that helped him deal with his son’s death and ended up in his first book, Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.

As a motivational speaker, he now teaches teenagers and adults about making positive, thoughtful decisions. In an exercise from his second book, The Code: The Power of ‘I Will,’ he instructs people to write their own version of the surfer’s code – 12 promises to themselves beginning with the words ‘I will.’

He told the Jewish Journal:

“When you sit down and just write 12 promises to yourself…they develop force and power. When you put ‘I will’ in front of them, it’s a commitment. It’s a bond between you and the future…You’re not going to make a promise to yourself and flake out of it.”

I will vote in the leadership election.

The surfer has the science right. When you make a promise, you create “a bond between you and the future” – you and your better self, the one who does the right thing. This is why breaking promises feels so wrong. We have an inner need to ensure that our beliefs (about ourselves) and our behaviors are consistent.

Blame that nagging conscience on cognitive dissonance. One of our regular webinar speakers Dr. Melissa R. Michelson, Professor of Political Science at Menlo College, explains:

“Asking individuals to commit to voting will increase their likelihood of doing so because they do not want to suffer the negative feelings that can result from behaving inconsistently with their initial answer.” We want “to avoid holding dissonant or inconsistent cognitions.”

President Obama’s campaign team were familiar with this behavioral compulsion and used it to their advantage. They asked voters to complete a Pledge to Vote form on postcards and websites. The rest is history.

We know running your organization’s votes and elections is one of many hats you wear. To make your job easier, we’re giving you a tool to help you leverage behavioral science on behalf of your elections. As part of your election email marketing campaign, our new Commit to Vote tool sends graphic-rich emails to your eligible voters asking for their pledge to vote. When voters choose to “commit to vote” they will be asked if they would like to set a reminder to vote. If they request a reminder, they have the option to select when and how they would like to be reminded.

In scientific field experiments, voters who committed to vote had a 5% higher turnout rate than the control group, and those who also received reminder to vote had a 10% higher turnout rate. If you’d like to read more about the effectiveness of Commit to Vote campaigns and tactics you can use, take a few minutes to read one of previous posts:

I will vote when the swells die down.
(photo by The Pug Father/Flickr CC license)

Ask Voters to Take the Pledge

April 08, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

When we make promises, we usually stay true to our word. Otherwise, we feel uneasy inside. And if someone happens to remind us of our promise, especially if it’s someone we know, we definitely follow through on our commitment.

A public commitment has even more power to alter behavior. In a study conducted during a state legislative election, volunteers asked prospective voters, “Can I count on you to vote?” On Election Day, some of the voters were reminded of their commitment to vote. The ones who committed to vote had a 5% higher turnout rate than the control group. The ones who also received an Election Day reminder had a 10% higher turnout rate.

This same tactic was used successfully by the Obama campaign in 2012 They collected pledges to vote on the campaign’s website and encouraged those who signed the pledge to share it on Facebook. Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, said, “As a general rule, people are people—and if they make a commitment and you follow up on it, they feel obliged to keep up with that commitment.”

Corey Booker used the “pledge to vote” tactic when he ran for Senate last year. Instead of making phone calls, Booker’s volunteer, none other than President Obama, used YouTube to ask voters to take a pledge. The campaign also used another tactic we’ve discussed here before – asking voters to make a plan to vote. As you might expect, Booker won.

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, said, “People want to be congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that commitment is public.” How can your organization tap into this compulsion to honor commitments?

To increase voter participation using this method, two actions are necessary:

  • Ask for a hard commitment to vote.
  • Follow up with a reminder to vote.

Here are a few tactics you can use before and during your election or voting event.

  • Send an email with an embedded pledge form or a link to an online pledge form. Publish the names of those who signed the pledge on your website – you could call it an “honor roll.” 
  • Create an “I pledge to vote” digital badge that can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. 
  • Encourage members to use a #PledgeToVoteABC hashtag on Twitter. Insert your organization’s acronym in the place of “ABC.” 
  • At the opening of the election, send an email reminder to everyone who signed the pledge. 

We’ve made the pledge process easier with eBallot’s Commit to Vote tool. Using this new tool, you can ask voters for their commitment to vote as part of your election email marketing campaign. If voters make a commitment, they can set up a reminder and choose how and when they’d like to be reminded.

If you’d like to read more about the effectiveness of Commit to Vote campaigns and tactics you can use, take a few minutes to read one of our webinar recaps.

Commitments to vote increase voter turnout

Taking the pledge, 18th century style.
(The Oath of the Horatii (detail), Jacques-Louis David)

 

Rebrand Your Student Government to Increase Election Participation

April 03, 2014 8:45 am in University Voting by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

“I just want to know what the student government even does,” said a community college student. “I can’t really care (about elections) if I don’t know what they’re doing.”

His complaint is echoed by student after student in campus newspapers across the country. Meanwhile, student government leaders and newspaper editors complain about student apathy and low turnout for elections. Apathy isn’t going to go away until students have a reason to care, and it’s difficult to care about something you know nothing about.

At some universities, the student government is its own worst enemy. Infighting, scandals and petty politics aren’t reserved only for the halls of Congress – you can find similar drama in many student unions. As one university newspaper said:

“Who needs Netflix and HBO when perhaps the most intriguing drama of the season, rife with questionable ethics, self-aggrandized importance and fiery rounds of finger pointing, can be tuned into just by paying attention to Student Government during this student body presidential election cycle?”

If that’s the impression students have of their government, it’s no surprise they choose to ignore elections. Students at a Canadian university were so tired of what they saw as their student government’s mishandling of the candidate recruitment and election process that they started a campaign: Vote “None of the Above.” And guess what? “None of the Above” won.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Many student leaders understand they have a big problem – communicating what they do and how it makes a difference. If their fellow students understood that, they would be more likely to pay attention to student government throughout the year and participate in elections. Come to think of it, leaders of membership organizations have the same problem. It’s a marketing problem.

The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN) has come up with a great idea to tackle the lack of student awareness. “We kept dealing with this whole need for refocusing how we communicate with students,” ASUN president (and marketing major) Eric Reznicek said. “We figured some of it had to do with the perception of ASUN – that comes back completely to marketing and brand image.”

They’re working with a student-led advertising group to redo their mission statement, elevator message, color scheme, logo, and social media strategy, tactics and profile design. The editorial board for a campus newspaper at the University of Toledo came up with the same general idea. Discussing student apathy, they said:

“We think it has to do with SG’s (Student Government’s) image and failure to publicize itself well. Instead, almost all of SG’s image is conveyed to students through news stories and opinionated commentary which is sometimes less than helpful. Student Government needs a public relations team.”

Student governments need a communication strategy to better convey what they do. Changes in attitudes and culture take time, but you can start slowly by testing tactics on first-year students, then build up your efforts. Use every platform to let students know what’s going on in your meetings.

  • Post a summary of meeting decisions and discussions on the student government website.
  • Send out weekly emails about student government activities.
  • Regularly update dedicated social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any other platforms used regularly by students.

Put a helpful face on student government.

  • Meet regularly with student organizations and residence hall groups to listen to their concerns and ideas and keep them informed about the work of student leaders.
  • Publicize ‘office hours’ when students can drop in to discuss issues and ask questions.
  • Hold town hall meetings every quarter.

At Cornell University, the Student Association (SA) plans to implement an online petition platform that will allow students to have their concerns brought before the SA if they get 250 signatures. “[The petition platform] gives us a better pulse of what’s happening on campus, what people are interested in learning more about and it gives students more buy-in on issues on campus,” said SA executive vice president Juliana Batista.

Before elections, ask student leaders to visit with other student organizations to answer questions about the candidate recruitment and election process. Too many student governments are seen as insular with the same type of people running year after year. Student are more likely to participate in elections when the candidate slate is more diverse and representative of the student body.

If no one’s paying attention, are you a leader or an administrator? Leave behind a true leadership legacy by changing how student government represents, connects and communicates with your campus community.

rebrand your student government to increase election participation

Photo by KOMU News/Flickr CC license

How to Tap into a Voter’s Emotional Brain

March 18, 2014 9:15 am in Increasing Voter Turnout, Science of Voting by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

As much as we’d like to think our emotions are on the sideline when we have decisions to make, we’re only human, not Vulcan, and our emotions have a stronger hold on us than we’d like to admit. In her riveting TED talk, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor says, “We live in a world where we are taught from the start that we are thinking creatures that feel. The truth is, we are feeling creatures that think.”

Marketers know the powerful role our emotions play in decision-making, whether we’re deciding to buy a car, attend a conference or join an association. Advertising messages primarily trigger our emotions while also appealing to the logical side of our brain.  

When marketing elections, you need to engage the emotions of the voter by pressing “more complex emotional buttons,” says clinical and political psychologist, Drew Westen. “The political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures and policies to make a reasoned decision.”

In 2006, Westen and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in several studies to examine brain activity. “The brain areas responsible for reasoning did not show increased activity as participants drew their conclusions about the information. Instead, the brain areas controlling emotions lit up.” He says, “We found we could predict somewhere between 80 percent and 85 percent of the time which way people would go on questions of presumed fact from emotions alone.”

Take a peek inside a decision maker’s brain.

Here’s what’s going on in our heads when we process information like marketing copy. The retina captures images and sends that data on two paths – one goes to the neo cortex (the thinking part of the brain) and the other goes straight to the reptilian brain (the emotional, decision-making part of the brain). This second pathway to the emotional, decision-making part of the brain is about 500 times faster, meaning, we are hard wired to make decisions at the old emotional brain level.

This old reptilian, or emotional, brain overrides our logical brain and drives decisions. Professional marketers leverage neuroscience research like Westen’s to learn how to speak the emotional brain’s language so they can better influence their customers’ purchasing decisions. Membership organizations can influence their members’ and prospects’ purchasing and voting decisions by delivering a clear picture of benefits – how a voter will feel as a result of voting.

Because the emotional brain sees images first and words second, messaging is even more effective when it’s visually supported and enhanced. Add a real photo of a member during the voting experience, looking happy and satisfied, maybe even in the company of others. If it’s a photo of someone the voter will recognize, even better. Avoid stock photos – they reek of inauthenticity.

Use a conversational voice in marketing copy.

Our brains continue to evolve in response to our environment, despite the hold our reptilian brain still has on us. We read and respond differently to online text, like emails and web copy, than we used to with printed text. The 2012 Obama campaign team learned that their most effective emails were the ones with a casual, conversational tone. In fact, their most successful email began simply with the greeting, “Hey.”

A primary characteristic of conversational copy is the use of the word “you” — the most powerful word in marketing. When developing email messages, write as if you were having a conversation with a specific person. 

Another powerful word is “because.” Social psychologist Ellen Langer found that when the word “because” is used in a request, the likelihood of the request being honored increased from 60% to 94%. Always tell the voter why she should honor your call to action – “because (compelling reason based on behavioral science principles).”

In past blog posts, we’ve explained how to put behavioral science to work while tapping into your voter’s emotional and logical brain.

  • Encourage infrequent or non-voters to “join the crowd” by voting. 
  • Appeal to the regular voter’s social identity or self-image as part of a superior or virtuous group – voters or members who make a difference. 
  • The more personal the mobilization tactic, the more effective it is. Encourage voters to invite others to participate. 

Don’t rely on your emotional brain, gut, assumptions or conventional wisdom to make decisions about election marketing. Put your logical brain in charge and rely on behavioral science and marketing research, as well as organizational data that gives you insight into member behavior. Use science to trigger emotions and influence member behavior.

tap into your voter's emotional brain

Voter Engagement Tactic: Meet the Candidates

March 04, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

One of the most common reasons for voter apathy is a lack of knowledge about the candidates or issues on the ballot. You can increase voter knowledge and spark an emotional connection between them and the candidates by hosting in-person or virtual Meet the Candidate forums.

Try one of these Meet the Candidate programs.

In-person: The National Society of Accountants holds a Meet the Candidates Forum at their annual meeting. Members submit questions for the candidates in person at the forum or online beforehand. The Georgetown University Student Association hosts a presidential debate where both students and campus media can pose questions to the candidates.

Online Q&A: At the American Academy of Dermatology, questions for candidates are emailed by members and posted to a Town Hall web page where candidates respond to them. You could also take advantage of your online community as a platform where members can get to know candidates. Ask members to send questions to a staff contact who will then pose them to all candidates. If you don’t have an online community, use your LinkedIn group instead.

Webcast: We love this idea from the Drupal Association. They host two virtual Meet the Candidates Sessions where members can hear from candidates and ask questions in real time. If members can’t log in for the live sessions, they can watch the recordings later.

If you hold a Meet the Candidates program at an event, offer a virtual simulcast for members who can’t be there in person. Members who can’t or don’t attend events are likely to feel the most disconnected during the election, so it’s worth making an effort to connect with them. Encourage chapters to host parties where members can gather and watch the webcast together.

After your live or virtual event, share the recordings or a summary of the candidates’ responses on your election webpage and publish a selection of excerpts in your newsletter and magazine.

Keep additional questions in your pocket.

If you host an in-person or virtual candidates forum, give members the chance to ask questions. To eliminate any biases, screen the questions before the moderator poses them to the candidates. Keep some additional questions in reserve that will elicit unique, not cookie-cutter, answers.

The National Association of the Deaf asks each board candidate the same five questions and posts their answers on their website alongside their photo and links to their Facebook page, Twitter profile and website.

  • Tell us why you are a candidate for the NAD Board position that you have chosen.
  • Outline your background and the qualifications you bring to this position and the NAD Board as a whole.
  • Describe your vision for the NAD and its future.
  • Explain the specific ways you would promote diversity and youth within the NAD.
  • Social networking is a popular way of sharing news. Explain how you will draw new supporters to the NAD through social media and related technologies.

If you want to take “hnizing” to the next level, consider asking some offbeat and personal (but not too personal!) questions. For example, try one of the questions asked by James Lipton on the Bravo TV show, Inside the Actors Studio: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Or, what profession would you not like to do?

Come up with questions related to your members’ industry or profession, or general ones such as:

  • How did you earn your first paycheck?
  • What was the first concert you attended?
  • If you could spend 15 minutes with any living (or dead) person, who would it be and why?
  • If you had one extra hour of free time a day, how would you use it?
  • If you could have one starring role in a film already made, which would it be?
  • Who should play you in a film about your life?
  • What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Hollywood has learned the power of the backstory to turn viewers into active fans. For example, people feel good about voting for American Idol contestants because they’ve had a peek into their personal lives and are helping to make their dreams come true. Emotions are triggered and fans respond by voting for their favorite. NBC tapped the same emotions during the Winter Olympics when they brought us into an athlete’s life in one of their “Road to Sochi” stories.  

When voters learn more about candidates, they not only have the knowledge needed to make the best decision, but they also become more invested in the candidates’ aspirations, and more likely to show up to vote.

Follow NBC's lead when connecting candidates to voters

Follow NBC’s lead when connecting candidates to voters.

Webinar Recap: Increase Voter Participation with Commitments to Vote

February 27, 2014 10:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout, Webinar by Jenn Barton, Marketing Director

What happens when you make a promise? You usually keep it, right? Because when you start thinking about how to get out of it, your conscience pipes up. “But, you promised. What will they think?”

Our conscience’s need to keep our commitments was the focus of yesterday’s webinar. Dr. Melissa Michelson, author and professor of political science at Menlo College, joined our CEO Mike Tuteur for a talk about the psychology behind sticking to our promises and how we can leverage that behavioral compulsion for elections and voting events.

We all want to be the kind of person who keeps their word, whether it’s to buy Girl Scout cookies from our niece or to vote. In a controlled study conducted by behavioral scientists, volunteers contacted prospective voters before an election and asked, “Can I count on you to vote?” Some of the voters were called again on Election Day. The ones who committed to vote turned out at a rate 5% higher than the control group who weren’t called. Voters who also received an Election Day reminder turned out at a rate 10% higher.

The same tactic was successfully used by the Obama campaign in 2012. People were asked to sign a pledge to vote and then reminded of their pledges. When Corey Booker ran for Senate, a very influential volunteer asked voters to pledge to vote and make a plan to vote – another effective voter mobilization tactic that we discussed recently on the blog. Booker won.

To increase voter participation, two things are necessary:

  • Ask for a hard commitment to vote.
  • Follow up with a commitment reminder to vote.

How to leverage the commitment principle for your elections

The method(s) you use to obtain voter commitments will depend on your voters’ communication preferences and the resources you have for outreach, i.e., staff and/or volunteer availability. Here are some options for obtaining pledges to vote before your election or voting event begins:

  • Conduct a phone call campaign to seek commitments.
  • Mail pledge cards.
  • Send an email with an embedded pledge form or a link to an online pledge form.
  • Create an “I commit to vote” web page. To increase social pressure, you could also publish the names of those who have pledged.
  • Create an “I commit to vote” digital badge to share on Facebook.
  • Send a “Will you commit to vote?” text to those who have opted in to receive texts from you. Provide an option to reply.

Then, you have to follow up with a reminder to vote. Use the same communication channels, or, when obtaining the original commitment, ask them how they would like to be reminded.

We’ve made it easier for you: introducing eBallot’s Commit to Vote

With our new eBallot Commit to Vote tool you can ask voters for their commitment to vote as part of your election email marketing campaign.

Turnout increases when voters make a pledge to vote

If voters choose “Commit to Vote,” the next screen will ask them if they wish to set a reminder for voting. They also have the option to select the reminder method (email, phone, etc.) and the day they would like to be reminded (first or second day of voting, halfway through the voting period, last day or a specific day).

Those who plan to participate and don’t need a reminder have the option of declining a reminder.

Reminding voters about their commitment to vote will increase turnout

If voters choose “Decline to Vote,” the next screen will ask them to provide a reason for not voting – an opportunity to get feedback so you can design tactics to overcome any barriers to voting. They also have the option to not provide a reason.

Find out why eligible voters aren't participating

eBallot’s Commit to Vote tool also provides reports to keep you informed on voters’ commitment and reminder status. You can also find out which days and communication channels are most popular for reminders.

The double dose of commitments and reminders will make a difference in your voter participation rate. And, you can use these same behavioral mobilizers for other campaigns like membership renewals, conference marketing, political action and fundraising.

Now, make me a promise. Commit to being an electioneer. Experiment with some of these tactics to drive engagement and participation in your elections and voting events.

On Your Organization’s Election Day, Party Like It’s 1899

February 25, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

The best voter turnout for U.S. presidential elections occurred during the Gilded Age, the last few decades of the 19th century. Back then, 78% of eligible voters on average showed up to vote. Not bad compared to the 2012 presidential election that only attracted 58% of eligible voters.

Just like today, people in the late 19th century thought they were too busy to vote, so the political parties had to figure out how to make the voting process more appealing. Since humans are such social animals, they turned Election Day into a big, all day, all night party with parades, rallies, speeches, bonfires and plenty of free booze. Free-flowing whisky and, truth be told, bribery created a crowd of enthusiastic voters. It didn’t hurt that in some cities, like New York, 90% of the voting places were in saloons.

Dr. Donald P. Green, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, wanted to see if history would repeat itself in the 21st century. In a series of experiments, family-friendly parties were hosted at several election sites. He found out that social activities organized around elections, even “lame professorial parties,” did increase turnout.

Learn the science driving a voter’s behavior.

Your organization can adopt the best of the Gilded Age’s election practices – the social experience – to increase voter turnout for your elections. Social events will also provide the best atmosphere for leveraging the behavioral science principles that drive people to vote.

“Election participation is a social activity,” said Dr. Melissa Michelson, a Professor of Political Science at Menlo College and a noted expert in voter mobilization strategies. “Scientific research proves that individuals are more likely to vote when they know their friends have voted, or when they see many others are doing so.”

Here’s the scientific explanation. Voting is a “normative behavior” — it adheres to certain social norms or standards. We vote because we feel compelled to adhere to an injunctive norm – what we’re supposed to do according to society. We’re supposed to do our civic duty and vote.

Descriptive norms — how people actually behave — also influence our behavior. Seeing or hearing about other people voting makes us want to vote too. It’s the popular thing to do. Injunctive and descriptive norms influence how we behave and whether we vote.

Social norms are so enormously powerful that behavior becomes catchy. When eligible voters see what other people in their network are doing, they’re more likely to do it themselves. They will model themselves on that peer behavior and conform to the social norm of voting.

Celebrate the election kick-off.

You can make this behavioral principle work for your election or voting event by giving people the opportunity to socialize around voting, for example, at a celebratory event on the eve or first day of an election. Ask chapters to host their own local election parties too, or find members who are willing to organize informal happy hours. Share the excitement on a Google Hangout or other web conferencing platform. And don’t forget to set up a few laptops so members can vote on the spot.

With some planning, you could arrange a week of election promotions with a mix of live and virtual events supported by blog posts, print and digital articles and social media updates. Members are always looking for excuses to meet up with friends and peers and will appreciate adding fun election events to their social calendar.

Create election buzz at events.

If you have conferences, meetings, events or webinars scheduled before or during the election period, ask speakers and instructors to remind attendees about the election and encourage them to vote. Provide talking points to anyone who makes these announcements.

Include voting information in conference packets or bags. If you’re using a mobile conference app, provide a link to the voting platform from the home page. Promotional signage will also keep the election on the mind of attendees, especially if voting is held at the meeting.

Governance is a serious business, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Next time, experiment with a historically tested tactic: Election Day parties.

Election Day party

The County Election by George Caleb Bingham (Saint Louis Art Museum)
Said to depict an election in 1850, in Saline County, Missouri.