Social pressure helps raise voter turnoutMarch 14th, 2008 - 3:50 pm ICT by admin
Washington, March 14 (IANS) There is a message here for election campaigners in India, at least in urban centres: direct mail campaigns not only improve voter turnout but are cheaper than door-to-door and phone canvassing, according to a new study. The remarkable increase in turnout “exceeds the effect of live phone calls and rivals the effect of face-to-face contact with canvassers conducting get-out-the vote campaigns,” the study has found.
These findings by Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green of Yale University and Christopher W. Larimer of University of Northern Iowa have appeared in a recent issue of the journal American Political Science Review.
Prior to the August 2006 primary election in Michigan, researchers sent out one of four various mailings to 80,000 households encouraging them to vote, gradually increasing levels of social pressure.
The first mailing reminded voters that voting is a civic duty. The second mailing informed them that researchers would study their turnout based on public records.
The third mailing listed a record of voter turnout among those in the household. The fourth displayed both the neighbourhood and household voter turnout.
The third and fourth mailings also suggested that there would be a follow-up letter after the upcoming election, reporting on their household or neighbourhood voter turnout.
The authors found that when it comes to voting, people are more likely to conform to powerful social norms, like viewing of voting as a civic duty, if they expect their behaviour will be made public.
For example, after households were shown their own voting record, their turnout rose to 34.5 percent, a 4.5 percent increase over the control group’ s voting rate of 29.7 percent.
“Even more dramatic is the effect of showing households their own voter record and the voting records of their neighbours,” note the authors. Voter turnout among households exposed to this method was 37.8 percent, an increase of 8.1 percent over the control group.
By comparison, policy interventions such as poll day registration or vote-by-mail, which are widely debated today and seek to increase turnout by lowering the costs of voting, are thought to have effects of three percent or less.
In this heated campaign season in the US, this study provides new and compelling insights into the phenomenon of voter mobilisation and to what extent social pressure can cause increases in voter turnout.
Tags: alan s gerber, american political science, american political science review, campaigners, canvassers, civic duty, control group, direct mail, donald p green, mail campaigns, michigan researchers, primary election, remarkable increase, social norms, university of northern iowa, upcoming election, vote campaigns, voting record, voting records, yale university