The latest issue of the American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) includes an insightful study entitled “Don’t Forget to Vote: Text Message Reminders as a Mobilization Tool.”
Co-authored by Allison Dale and Aaron Strauss, the study (PDF) suggests that connectedness is not a necessary condition for a successful mobilization campaign. “For certain voters, a noticeable reminder is sufficient to drive them to the polls.” What’s particularly interesting is that “impersonal text messages are as effective as other, more personal, forms of voter mobilization.”
Abstract. Current explanations of effective voter mobilization strategies maintain that turnout increases only when a potential voter is persuaded to participate through increased social connectedness. The connectedness explanation does not take into account, however, that registered voters, by registering, have already signaled their interest in voting.
The theory presented in this article predicts that impersonal, noticeable messages can succeed in increasing the likelihood that a registered voter will turn out by reminding the recipient that Election Day is approaching. Text messaging is examined as an example of an impersonal, noticeable communication to potential voters.
A nationwide field experiment (n = 8,053) in the 2006 election finds that text message reminders produce a statistically significant 3.0 percentage point increase in the likelihood of voting. While increasing social connectedness has been shown to positively affect voter turnout, the results of this study, in combination with empirical evidence from prior studies, suggest that connectedness is not a necessary condition for a successful mobilization campaign. For certain voters, a noticeable reminder is sufficient to drive them to the polls.
One question that remains is whether this finding would hold true in countries under authoritarian rule.
Interesting Patrick! Coming from a campaign background and having written many GOTV scripts, worked phone banks, knocked doors, etc., I’d also like to know how significantly the level of turnout is impacted by connectedness. Would it make a difference if the SMS was from your friend? From a member of the campaign staff you had interacted with? A recognizable “celebrity” (this could be a local mayor or community leader)? Also, how could SMS be used leading up to an election to cultivated connectedness through that medium? …and could THAT make a difference in an authoritarian state? There are too many interesting academic questions and paths to follow – ahhhhh! I think I’m on grad school overload.
Thanks for your comment, Jessica. You’re absolutely right, social networks matter and would influence the way in which a message propagates. You have great questions and 2 years of grad school to explore them : )