BY: LYDIA TRUPE (IDEAS42)
As you may have heard, there is an election coming up. Cable news, social media, and water cooler chatter have all been dominated by political discussion and debate. However, all of this apparent excitement and intention to vote may not necessarily translate into high levels of voter registration and turnout on Election Day. People may forget to register by their state deadline, or the hassle of filling out and sending registration paperwork may cause them to put it off indefinitely. Even those who have gone through the effort of registering to vote may not show up on Election Day if they have not planned enough time into their day to wait in the long lines at polling places. Campaigns, civic engagement groups, civic-minded organizations, and even private companies are using strategies informed by behavioral science to help overcome this intention-action gap and get people registered and to the polls. Here are three behaviorally informed examples of these strategies I’ve recently spotted.
TEXT ME, MAYBE?
Text messages have proven successful in prompting people to follow through on their intentions, including encouraging high school students to matriculate in college and helping college students to file financial aid paperwork by the deadline. Can text messages also be used to increase voter registration and turnout?
#BetterMakeRoom has implemented a text messaging campaign created by the non-profit Civic Nation. By texting VOTE to 74534, you can get reminders about registering to vote and information about key deadlines and registration requirements in your state. The campaign also directs users to their state voter registration page and prompts them to create a voting plan, which is then texted back to them prior to Election Day. Research shows that creating implementation intentions (or in layman’s terms, a plan of when, where, and how you will go about doing something) increases the likelihood that you will act on your intentions.
ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE DOING IT!
Recent campaigns by Facebook that allow users to see how many of their friends are voting have proven successful in increasing voter turnout and have been credited with driving record levels of voter registration this year. Such social proof interventions can be a powerful way to challenge a perception about what is common in one’s peer group. If you are an 18-24-year old, you have probably heard the stereotype about the apathy of young voters, and unless you have an especially politically active friend group, you may have an expectation that voting is something that only older people do.
The Skimm, a daily e-newsletter aimed at young professionals (particularly women), is trying to change this perception. For better or for worse, people are highly influenced by what they believe others are doing and what they believe others think they should do. The Skimmthevote Campaign utilizes social proof to demonstrate to readers that voting is a norm among their peers, with the implicit messaging being, “over 100,000 people like you are doing it, you should too!” This messaging is likely to work especially well because it appeals to Skimm readers’ identities as young and busy professional women. The Skimm further cultivates this sense of identity (or sense of an “in group”) by calling readers “Skimm’rs,” making a bunch of strangers feel like members of the same club.
MAKING THE COMMITMENT
Behavioral science tells us that making a written or verbal commitment to do something increases the likelihood that we will follow through on our intention. In this election cycle, the Hillary Clinton campaign has taken the traditional voter commitment card a bit further by having voters self-address a postcard that is sent back to them two weeks before Election Day reminding them of their commitment. Not following through on something we have committed to makes us feel uncomfortable, and these commitment cards provide a salient reminder to voters to act on their intention.
Currently, voter turnout in the United States lags behind that of other developed countries. Thus, it’s exciting to see behaviorally informed approaches being implemented to help Americans follow through on their intention and act on their constitutional right to vote.
Readers, have you seen any other nudges being used during this election season? Let us know using #nudgethevote!