Turnout rates among Hispanic voters in Texas have historically lagged behind those in other states. But as demographics in the Lone Star state continue to shift, the key for Democrats to win local elections and ultimately turn the state blue in statewide and national elections is increasing that turnout. That’s where a recent voter turnout project our firms conducted in Harris County, Texas comes in.

In the fall of 2012, Texans for America’s Future PAC conducted a comprehensive, research-driven, field and paid communications program aimed at increasing general election turnout among low-propensity African American, Latino and progressive Anglo women voters in Harris County. Gold Communications and Myers Research were engaged to conduct direct mail and polling to targeted Hispanic voters as part of the program.

The project resulted in a historically high 58 percent turnout rate among 140,000 targeted low-propensity Hispanic voters in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston.

The starting point for our effort was a discovery by Myers Research that even though they were calling registered voters at specific addresses with specific voting histories, over 30 percent of targeted voters indicated they were not registered to vote, despite the fact that they were. Anecdotal reports reinforced this point, as the field effort identified registered voters who had not voted in 2010 and did not realize they were still registered. This became the basis of our mail program.

A mail program not based on social pressure

Gold Communications designed a five-piece turnout mail program that was driven by this main research finding, rather than following the latest trend of exerting “social pressure” by making voting turnout public knowledge.

The growing use of social pressure messaging in mailings to get out the vote has been propelled by social science research studies that have found an increase in the turnout of infrequent voters when they are sent mailings that include such messaging when contrasted with mailings that appeal to civic duty.

The mailings tested in these studies have included pieces detailing the target’s voting history, comparing that history to that of the recipient’s neighbors and promising to report after the election whether the individual had voted (which some have described as “public shaming”). In some instances, a softer approach has been employed, where the voter is thanked for participating, though it has met with somewhat less success.

We chose to forgo such social pressure messaging and instead conduct a program aimed at empowering infrequent voters by informing them of their registration status, while seeking to persuade them that voting was critical to their interests.

The initial mailing was thus designed to appear as an official notice of eligibility to vote. The piece included a large arrow and box, into which each individual target’s name and address were lasered, to make it clear to the recipient that they were, in fact, registered and eligible to vote. The piece also began an effort to persuade the voters that their priorities and values were at stake, that Hispanics in Texas were under attack by extremist Republicans and that voting was necessary to defend their community.

There’s some irony here. Even though we rejected the social pressure route, this mailing aimed at informing and motivating rather than shaming voters, was awarded a Pollie for “Best Use of Social Pressure” by the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC).

The next three pieces in the program focused on further persuading our target universe that voting was important to them, their families and their community. To this end, we employed the same message principles that have long been used in the pursuit of swing voters: tell an emotional story, make sure the story is relevant to the lives of the recipients and repeat the message again and again.