2. Use peer group effects to drive voter turnout
As long as I’ve ever been involved in Labour campaigns, our standard GOTV message has been a more or less version of the following:
- ‘We think it is going to be very close tomorrow, we need you to come out and vote’
- ‘If you don’t vote today, the Tories will win’
- ‘It looks neck and neck around here – it could come down to just a few votes’
I suspect the reason that our GOTV message hasn’t really changed is not because we’ve rigorously tested it before every election and found it to be optimal. We just don’t have the resources to do to the level of research required to do that.
Thankfully resources are not something US campaigns are generally short of, which means they can afford such research. It falls to us to try and adapt/steal their research for UK usage. Sasha Issenberg has helpfully written a book about some of the ways that (and other) research is being applied by the likes of the Obama campaign. In this snappy article he identifies some ways that campaigns are moving away from using the type of GOTV message that argues people should vote because it will secure a certain outcome (i.e. the examples above), to a message that relies more on peer group effects, which encourages people vote because of their instinct to be part of something that others around them are doing. Think of it as using subtle peer pressure for enlightened means – turning out the vote. Using the same psychology that makes you feel pressured to have that extra pint because your mates are buying another round, the idea is that you feel pressured to vote because you know those around you are voting, and your natural inclination is to want to fit in.
Evolving our GOTV messages to use peer group psychology might mean we subtly change our messaging to say things like the following:
- ‘Almost all of the people we’ve spoken to around here say they’re going to come out and vote tomorrow, because they think it’s going to be close.’
- ‘The majority of people living here on Attlee Avenue voted here last time, and turnout might be higher again this time’
- ‘I’ve spoken to lots of other mums/dads/students who say they’ve been to vote today to make sure the Tories don’t get in’
Crucially, the technique emphasises that voting is the norm in the social groups of which the voter identifies of being a part. Feedback from the Obama campaign suggests these type of peer-influenced messages are finding their way into standard doorstep and phone GOTV scripts. We should be thinking of doing this.
I’m also interested in whether we can go further and micro-target our GOTV message in personalised printed literature too. With marked registers entered into Contact Creator, we could try using peer group effects to hone the effectiveness of the GOTV message for someone who didn’t vote in the last local election, by presenting them with very local statistics about the voting habits of their neighbours, e.g.: ‘Mr Smith, we noticed you missed out on voting at the elections last year – so please let us know if you need a hand getting the polling station this time. 60% of residents here in Attlee Avenue regularly vote, please join them this Thursday so together we can keep the Tories out.’
Of course the medium perhaps most naturally conducive to taking advantage of peer effects is social networking. In the 2010 US Congressional elections, Facebook introduced and evaluated the effect of putting an ‘I voted’ button at the top of users’ news feeds, which not only reminded people it was election day (and gave links to polling stations etc.) but also, crucially, provided details of your Facebook friends who had voted. The evaluation showed that this Facebook-delivered peer effect boosted turnout by a not-too-shabby 2%. This is estimated to have led to 340,000 extra people voting in that election. You can read more about that here.
At the Facebook fringe event at Labour Conference this year, Facebook staff confirmed in response to my question that they are in discussions with the Electoral Commission to use the ‘I voted button’ in future UK elections, which is great news. Peer-group influencing as part of GOTV is coming – Labour’s challenge is to think how we can maximise it across all of our GOTV channels, not just online.
This is part two of a series. You can find part one, on localising the organisation of GOTV, here.
Remember the Labour Party have an extensive range of campaign training modules available online (through membersnet here) and a variety of other support available through the Campaigns and Technology support team (contact details through membersnet here).