When it comes to motivating people to vote, the scripts Republican political campaigns have used for years aren’t very original. “Do you plan to vote tomorrow?…it’s an important election…it’s going to be close…it’s your civic duty”.
While early research in the late 80’s found this civic duty messaging effective, more recently the measurable effects of these scripts has waned. A group of researchers wondered if self identity triggers would increase voter turnout. They hypothesized that people who viewed themselves as “being the kind of person who votes” would be more likely to actually vote on Election Day.
To test this they modified scripts in surveys the night before and the morning of three different 2008 and 2009 elections and tracked whether respondents went on to vote based on state vote-history records. Each election they refined their experiment and approach. By the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial race they tested a random sample of registered voters. These voters included all party, age, gender demographics. To one group they asked a series of questions including, “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s/today’s election?”. To the other group similar questions, “How important is it to you to be a voter in the tomorrow’s/today’s election?”. The only difference in the questions between the two groups was the use of the verb “vote” or the noun “voter”.
It turns out words matter…
“The critical finding is that a small change in wording that framed voting as an expression of self rather than as simply a behavior increased voter turnout–in this experiment by 10.9 percentage points.” Just the short interaction of answering a survey helped individuals perceive themselves as “voters” and significantly increased their motivation to vote. This effect was not isolated and seen across all the respondent demographics. These findings were well publicized on the left and adopted in GOTV scripts by most major Democratic campaigns by the 2010 election.
Self identity strategies motivate more than just voting–it extends into other socially desirable behaviors. Additional research found that “children thought that a child described as ‘a carrot eater’ like carrots more than a child who ‘eats carrots whenever she can’.” The effects do not extend, however, for socially undesirable behaviors like smoking. Referring to someone as a “smoker” does not increase tobacco consumption. Individuals must feel positive about the behavior for self identity strategies to be successful.
What to Do?
You might have a great GOTV phone operations planned but if you are not using the most scientifically optimized scripts you will be missing out. In each GOTV interaction, reinforce the positive self identity that the individual is a “voter”. For a sample scripts that reinforce this join our email list to receive our free guide “GOTV: Script, Tips & Tactics”.
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“Motivating voter turnout by invoking the self” by Christopher J. Bryana, Gregory M. Walton, Todd Rogers, and Carol S. Dweck in PNAS