Get-out-the-vote campaigns succeeded because of two persuasion principles

A low voter turnout is a hallmark of mid-term elections, so a huge push in the fall to motivate people to go to the polls relied on two persuasion principles. The group America Votes sent residents a “voter report card” showing their historical voting record compared with their neighbors. Todd Rogers, a behavioral psychologist at Harvard, says the tactic worked because of the persuasion principle of social consensus: If others are doing it, you should too.

Rogers told WGBH radio in Boston that research shows two tactics to be effective:

  • Showing people that their neighbors have cast ballots more often than they have
  • Emphasizing that lots of people will vote and therefore they should too, rather than saying that few people will be voting and therefore the reader or listener needs to vote to help fill the void.

The principle of social consensus says that people generally see a certain action or behavior as correct, practical, or acceptable if others are also doing the same thing, particularly when the other people are similar to them.

Another influence tactic was at work when the voter report card said, “You are the kind of person who votes.” That plays on the human need to be consistent in our actions and our beliefs. We believe, or want to, that we do the right thing, which means exercising our right and public responsibility to vote.