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Peer, rather than media, pressure to vote works best

August 28, 2018

On Election Day in 2016, my friend, Nick, wrote on Facebook, “Unfriend me if you’re voting for Trump.”

While the historic election impelled Nick to hold his Trump-leaning friends liable for their behavior, he did not match this with accountability toward his liberal millennial peers who did not cast a ballot. On Election Day, he failed to urge even one like-minded friend to vote.

Fortunately, progressive campaigns across Texas are helping people like Nick mobilize their peers via a voter turnout tactic called Vote Tripling. This behavioral science-based tactic focuses people on a bite-sized challenge they are uniquely posed to surmount: getting three like-minded friends to cast a ballot.

Here’s how Vote Tripling works. At events, canvasses and through text messaging outreach, campaigners ask supporters such as Nick to pledge to get three friends to vote. Those who say “yes” are prompted to decide which three friends they will mobilize. Then, the evening before an election, these “Vote Triplers” receive a text message reminding them of the names of their three friends and prompting them to urge them to vote.

According to Jeremy Smith, an adviser to numerous Texas campaigns, “People enjoy being asked to Vote Triple.”

He explained, “Too often, campaigns often ask volunteers to use awkward and impersonal scripts.”

Contrarily, Smith said, supporters find it “authentic, and a bit flattering” to hear a campaign professional say, “No matter how hard I try, you’ll be much better at getting your friends to vote than a stranger like me.”

Evidence suggests Vote Tripling could strongly boost turnout. According to Columbia University’s Don Green and Yale University’s Alan Gerber, social pressure is “roughly an order of magnitude more influential than conventional partisan or nonpartisan appeals.”

Better yet, research finds social mobilization messages from disengaged people like Nick may be doubly potent because they elicit the perception that if inactive Nick is participating, everyone must be involved.

A well-run Vote Tripling program may be worth $450,000 in donations. This is based on congressional campaigns’ expectation of enrolling 3,000 Vote Triplers who each get just one person to vote. Creating that same impact using television ads — the standard way campaigns connect with hard-to-reach individuals — would require hundreds of thousands of dollars, given that ads can generate just one vote per $162 spent.

With most nonvoters leaning left, Vote Tripling poises Democrats for a sustained advantage for years to come.

In future elections, 2018 candidates can boost turnout for other in-district candidates simply by re-sending text message reminders to their Vote Triplers. If these reminders lead thousands of Nicks to mobilize their friends over the next decade, the 10-year net-present value of a 2018 candidate’s Vote Triplers may equal several million dollars.

To accelerate this movement, I recently co-founded VoteTripling.org. Campaigns simply send us lists of likely supporters, our volunteers text these targets and ask them to pledge to get three friends to vote, and we then send reminder text messages before an election — at no cost to our partner campaigns.

In doing so, we bottle the energy people like Nick feel toward their politically opposed friends and redirect it toward their like-minded, nonvoting peers.

If this works, millions of Nicks could unleash a new, reliable coalition of Democratic voters that endures for years to come.

Robert Reynolds is co-founder of VoteTripling.org. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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