Social Pressure in Your GOTV Program

by Elena Veatch

Social Pressure - Group of friends on the beach hanging out.

Social Pressure To Get Out The Vote.

Social pressure, Does it work? We care deeply about social norms. Our desire to be liked and accepted by our peers shapes our behavior more than we’d like to admit. We lie about our bad behaviors and exaggerate our better tendencies to fit in. What’s more, we do things when we think other people are watching that we’d otherwise never bother with. That’s why social pressure is such an effective tactic for campaigns and organizations when it comes to getting folks to turn out and vote. Check out our tips for incorporating social pressure into your GOTV mail program this fall.

Talk about voting as a social norm

Frame voting as a social norm so that people won’t want to violate it. The most effective way to leverage social pressure is to send out a voter report card that shows how the recipient of the mail measures up to their neighbors in terms of their recent voting history. People are likelier to adjust their behavior in response to insight about the people around them. If you don’t want to go quite this far with your social pressure, you can leave neighbors out of the equation and just show the recipient’s voting history. No matter how you approach social pressure, it always helps to make it clear that you may follow up with the recipient after the election to ask about their voting experience this year.

The uglier the better

Letters that look like government communications tend to generate higher increases in voter turnout than do glossy, stylistic mailers. People are likelier to read letters all the way through and to take them seriously.

Know your audience

In determining how to use social pressure in your mail program, know who you’re talking to and how they may respond to your messaging. If you’re engaging people who aren’t routine voters, it’s also helpful to supplement your social pressure language to remind them that whether they vote is public record, even though who they vote for is private.

Know your limits

Social pressure is most effective in increasing turnout when the language is harder, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth taking this approach. Whether you’re an advocacy group or a candidate running for office, be sure to consider the potential for backlash. Think about how people will respond to your brand when you try to nudge them to the polls. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign was criticized for sending out mail with “voting violation” language leading up to the 2016 Iowa caucuses, for example. Find the sweet spot for your program that you feel comfortable with.

Test out different language

There’s not much of a consensus when it comes to the efficacy of supplementing social pressure with other language, such as thanking people for being reliable voters or highlighting the importance of completing your civic duty. That said, it doesn’t hurt to test out different approaches in your mail to see what works best in increasing turnout among your target audience. Testing out different social pressure approaches will help you in the short-term as well as in the long run. 


Have question about social pressure for GOTV?  Drop us a note.