GOTV Research / Motivators

Accumulated notes concerning voter motivators submitted by Karen Kurycki, Jacksonville


  • Studies presented at Stanford on March 30 showed that more voters are motivated to go to the booths when they are told turnout will be high and when they are provoked to discuss plans for getting there.
  • Moreover, they also are more likely to vote when they are threatened with personal accountability and when they are encouraged to see voting as an intrinsic part of their identity, rather than just “something they do.”
  • Messages emphasizing low expected turnout were less effective at motivating voters than those emphasizing high expected turnout. But the effect was found only among citizens who voted infrequently or occasionally.
  • Ask people what their voting plan is: What time will you do it, where will you be coming from? This shows that cognitive planning and mechanical logistics, not just motivation, are part of the voting decision.
  • Personal accountability matters, too. In a study of the 2010 general election, researchers sent one group of potential voters a psychologically sophisticated mailing encouraging them to vote. Another group received the same mailing, plus in the top right corner a box saying: “We may call you after the election to talk about your voting experience.” Adding that box increased the effectiveness of the mailing in terms of the voting it stimulated by almost half. The effect was especially strong among those who were the most civically engaged, based on their answers
    to a post-election survey of civic questions like: “How many amendments are there in the Bill of Rights?”

In another study, researchers showed that people are more likely to head for the ballots when they are encouraged to see voting as a noble aspect of their character.

  • One way to do this is to use nouns rather than verbs. One version of a survey conducted online used a self-relevant noun. (“How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?”) Another referred to voting using a verb (“How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?”) The noun/personal-identity phrasing increased interest in registering to vote in two statewide elections in the United States and increased turnout in a third study, as assessed by official state records.
  • The subtle message that voting affirms a virtuous part of a person’s identity seems to work. When you talk to people say things like: “You are the kind of person who votes” or “As a voter…”