MoveOn touts new turnout tool

Want to get a person to vote? Tell them their Voter Score. At least that’s Civic Action’s GOTV plan, which it tested during the 2012 Democratic primary in Delaware and boast is the best voter turnout tactic dollar-for-dollar. By grading a person’s voter history for the last five years and mailing it to them along with their neighborhood average, MoveOn expects to get hundreds of thousands of progressives, who wouldn’t otherwise vote, to the polls. The progressive group says it became interested in the tactic after learning of psychologist Robert Cialdini’s finding that telling people their neighbors’ electricity footprint got them to use less energy themselves. “The social psychology background plays on their competitive spirit,” says Pedro Morillas, a MoveOn spokesman. “It ends up spurring the competition and encouraging them to take action.” It’s similar to the social pressure tactics utilized by Democrats in Colorado’s competitive Senate contest during the 2010 cycle. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also adopted an electronic version of the tactic this cycle. The DCCC sent emails to potential donors informing them of their “supporter number,” support-to-date and suggested donation. Those who didn’t donate received follow-up emails highlighting their lack of a contribution.   “It may have been inspired by social pressure tactics,” says Democratic strategist Hal Malchow, who played a key role in the 2010 mailers that went out in Colorado. “But my guess is that it is something tested long ago in fundraising. In campaigns we have only been exploring measuring our tactics for a few years.  In fundraising they have been aggressively testing everything for decades.” In the 2008 general election, MoveOn employed a different social pressure maneuver—creating a viral video tool that relied on peer pressure. By creating a fake newscast implying a friend’s failure to vote cost President Obama the election, friends could essentially send a guilt trip to others.   MoveOn wouldn’t say how much their bulk mail postcards boosted turnout in Delaware, but communications director Nick Berning says, “If you project the same results we had in Delaware across the 12 million Voter Report Cards we sent out for the general election, you would expect the result to be that hundreds of thousands of additional people would vote because of the Voter Report Cards.” During Delaware’s primary, MoveOn sent 59,129 potential voters a postcard with their and their neighborhood’s Voter Score on it, compared to a control group of 57,453 potentials. They found that for every $4 invested, an additional person voted. “What matters a lot is how much it costs because canvasing or good precinct programming will move an individual more than this will,” says Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn. “But what was exciting about this was it was a big effect for something cheap.” Ruben says the total cost of all this is several million dollars between several groups and MoveOn—which spent around a million. “We checked the numbers 10 times over, and when they seemed real we said, ‘Well, we have new way to turn out the vote. We can’t tell you what it is, but just trust us and give us money,’” Ruben says. The 12 million general election direct mail pieces are supplemented by an online ad campaign and personalized phone messages.

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