Thursday, July 21, 2011

Voters just want self-esteem

Want more people to bother to vote? Don't exhort them. Instead, offer them a positive identity. That's the finding of a recent psych experiment.

One group was asked questions like: "How important is it to you to be a voter?" while the other was asked: "How important is it to you to vote?"

Going through public records after Election Day, [Stanford researcher Christopher] Bryan was able to figure out which of the participants in the experiment actually voted. The results showed that people whose surveys referred to "being a voter" were more likely to go to the polls than people whose surveys referred to "voting."

"It seems that in almost every election cycle, you hear about how winning and losing comes down to which side can get more of its supporters to the polls, especially in close contests," Bryan said.

The research found a 13 percent increase in turnout among the group surveyed as "voters."

This accords completely with what I teach organizers about practical campaigning. Unlike almost any other form of political agitation, taking part in elections runs along with the mainstream of the country's ideal image of itself. We're all supposed to be citizens; we feel good about ourselves when we participate in civic rituals. Most people want to take on the self-image of good citizens. You can give them the gift of seeing themselves as "voters" by the way you talk with them.

Of course in the real world, campaigns have sides: the voters you want to turn out are the voters who will support your candidate or initiative. That comes down to targeting: talking with the appropriate people who will vote your way. But once you have picked out such a list, part of your job is the pleasant task of making them feel good about themselves.

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