In 1990, the organization Rock the Vote partnered with MTV to encourage young people to vote. Years later, people young and old must still be motivated to go vote. According to an article by researcher Katherine Haenshen, “Use of the Internet has soared from 1.4% of American adults in 1983 to 87% in 2013 (Fox & Rainie, 2014; Zickuhr & Smith, 2012), whereas turnout in national elections rarely exceeds 60% in presidential cycles and hovers around 40% in congressional midterms (McDonald, 2014).”
How can political campaigns find ways to make people want to vote? Social media may hold the answer.
One common tactic that has worked in the past is called social pressure messaging. Campaigns would mail postcards to people that would mention that their voting records and participation in past elections were public information. Haenschen believes that similar social pressure messaging can be used with Facebook.
Her team conducted three studies to test this theory.
The first study took place in Dallas County, Texas. Seven people were recruited to post “get out the vote” status updates with social pressure elements, like pride and shame, and tag specific friends. The results of the study showed that these social pressure elements did increase turnout. In fact, shame messages produced greater turnout than pride messages.
The second study took place in Travis County, Texas. Here, a similar experiment was conducted; however, this time the recruits used their own Facebook friend list. The results of the study once again showed that people tagged in a status update were more likely to vote. It also showed that people who got a shame message were more likely to vote.
In the final study, a similar experiment occurred in Collin County, Texas. This time eight people were recruited to post status updates and tag each other. These posts would be visible to subsets of the eight people’s friend lists. The results this time, however, showed no real correlation between these status updates and increased turnout. If it did not mention them specifically, people were not affected by it. However, posts that praised a person slightly increased turnout.
In conclusion, social pressure is an effective tool. Much like the postcards that were physically mailed to pressure people into voting, a message posted on Facebook can produce the same results.
These studies show that a simple reminder to vote is not effective, so there must be social pressure. A post of Facebook may prove more useful than a postcard or knock on a door.
To read the full text of this study:
Haenschen, K. (2016). Social Pressure on Social Media: Using Facebook Status Updates to Increase Voter Turnout. Journal of Communication, 66(4), 542-563.