How to Get People to Vote? Ask Them.

With one week left until Election Days, campaign’s strategies on the ground have shifted. Rather than trying to register voters, convert voters and win over swing voters, campaigns are now trying to get voters to vote. The focus on the youth vote in the 2000 and 2004 elections shows that while young people were great at mobilizing during the campaign season, not nearly as many of them actually cast their votes when Election Day arrived.

But getting people to the polls may not be as complicated as it seems. In fact, no brainwashing, coercion or force in needed, according to Princeton psychologist and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, Daniel Kahneman.

In a conference last week, Kahneman exlained how phone calls and canvassing is actually the post effective way to for campaigns to get people to the polls. The conversation between psychologists Kahnman, Nathan Myhrvold and Richard Thaler was as follows:

KAHNEMAN: …there are those effects that are small at the margin that can change election results. You call and ask people ahead of time, “Will you vote?”. That’s all. “Do you intend to vote?”. That increases voting participation substantially, and you can measure it. It’s a completely trivial manipulation, but saying ‘Yes’ to a stranger, “I will vote” …

MYHRVOLD: But to Elon’s point, suppose you had the choice of calling up and saying, “Are you going to vote?”, so you prime them to vote, versus exhorting them to vote.

KAHNEMAN: The prime could very well work better than the exhortation because exhortation is going to induce resistance, whereas the prime‚ the mild embarrassment causes you to make what feels like a commitment, and the commitment, if it’s sufficiently precise, is going to have an effect on behavior.
THALER: If you ask them when they’re going to vote, and how they’re going to get there, that increases voting.

KAHNEMAN: And where.

The full transcript [] of the conference is here.

So for those of you debating whether it’s worth your time to spend a day at that phone bank, making calls from home, or driving to the nearest swing state to ask voters if they’re voting, the answer is “yes,” a Nobel laureate said so.

–Jamie Wong