Like the Vote

By Henri Makembe on 09.26.12

In a little over a month, campaigns across the country will mobilize to get out the vote for their chosen candidates and causes on Election Day.  But the most advanced ones will be those that integrate online outreach into their GOTV arsenals.

recent study led by researchers at the UC-San Diego shows why.  Their massive experiment, conducted during the 2010 midterms, demonstrated that the simple act of receiving a Facebook message made users more likely to cast their ballots.

In the study, more than 60 million people on Facebook saw a social, non-partisan “get out the vote” message at the top of their news feeds on Nov. 2, 2010.

The message featured a reminder that “Today is Election Day”; a clickable “I Voted” button; a link to local polling places; a counter displaying how many Facebook users had already reported voting; and up to

six profile pictures of users’ own Facebook friends who had reported voting.

The researchers estimate that the generic Election Day message yielded an additional 60,000 votes, by itself.  The real payoff, however, didn’t come from the message itself, but from users who shared it with their personal networks.

But the effects of the social network – of social contagion among friends – they say, yielded another 280,000 more, for a total of 340,000. In other words, Fowler said, the social network yielded an additional four voters for every one voter that was directly mobilized.

On Facebook, just like in other forms of voter contact, personal contact matters most.  The best outreach has virality in mind and the end target for campaigns needs to be their supporters’ networks, not just their immediate followers.  The most effective campaigns don’t just remind their supporters to vote; they remind their supporters to vote and ask them to share, tweet and pass on that message to their personal contacts.

While online outreach can’t replace the 8-10% turnout boost generated by door-to-door canvassing, its affordability and ease of use make it a tactic every modern campaign ought to incorporate into its GOTV efforts.