The Power of Voter Engagement: Key Strategies for Success

Published on July 2, 2024

Voter engagement is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. When people participate in elections, they help shape the policies and leadership that affect their daily lives. Moreover, engaging voters can lead to higher participation rates, more informed electorates, and better representation in government.

However, with numerous factors contributing to low voter turnout, effective strategies are essential to ensure that all voices are heard, particularly those from underrepresented communities. 

What is voter engagement?

Voter engagement refers to the activities and initiatives aimed at encouraging people to participate in the electoral process. This includes educating voters, increasing voter registration, and motivating people to turn out on election day.

Voter engagement strategies

Engaging voters effectively requires a mix of innovative approaches and proven techniques. Understanding what motivates different segments of the population and tailoring strategies to meet their needs fosters a more active and informed electorate. 

Here are some key strategies to boost voter participation and ensure every voice is heard.

1. Stay on their minds with an integrated communication strategy

In the 2020 elections, a majority of voters reported receiving text messages (64%) or emails (60%) from political campaigns in the month before the presidential election. Even more, 78%, were contacted through traditional methods like printed mail or fliers. 

Some voters received phone calls, with 48% getting prerecorded calls and 32% receiving calls from a live person. About 11% of voters reported receiving a home visit from a campaign representative.

voter-engagement-contact-channels-elections

Combining various communication methods—such as door canvassing, phone banking, texting, and emails—can keep voter engagement consistent and effective. Strategically mixing these tools helps you reach different demographics and maintain continuous contact with voters.

2. Pre-register young (future) voters

Preregistration significantly boosts young voter turnout. Studies show that preregistration increases turnout by 2-12.5%. Additionally, individuals who preregister are 8% more likely to vote than those who register through traditional methods.

So, get young people involved early by pre-registering them to vote to significantly boost future voter turnout. Many states allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register, ensuring they are ready to vote as soon as they turn 18. 

3. Encourage volunteering among young voters

voter-engagement-youth-voter-turnout-2016-2020

In the 2020 presidential election, approximately 50% of young people aged 18-29 voted, marking an 11-point increase from the 39% turnout in 2016. This is likely one of the highest rates of youth electoral participation since the voting age was lowered to 18.

This demonstrates the growing political engagement among youth.

Young voters can be powerful advocates for voter engagement. Encourage them to volunteer for voter registration drives, canvassing, and phone banking. Their enthusiasm can be contagious, helping to mobilize their peers. 

For example, the NAACP’s Youth & College Division has been instrumental in mobilizing young voters through volunteering efforts. Additionally, a study conducted in the UK by Dr. Stuart Fox found that childhood volunteering encourages those from politically disengaged homes to go on and vote when they are older. 

4. Go for an Integrated Voter Engagement (IVE) strategy

An IVE strategy combines voter mobilization with community organizing to create lasting change. This approach involves building relationships within communities, understanding their specific needs, and integrating voter engagement into broader social justice efforts. 

IVE groups have been instrumental in expanding voter participation among underrepresented and disenfranchised communities. Over the past election cycles, these groups and their allies have registered approximately 4.5 million new voters across several states, including Florida, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, North Carolina, and Texas. 

This surge in voter registration has not only diversified the electorate but also contributed to significant policy changes. For instance, IVE efforts have successfully advocated for minimum wage increases in 17 states and 15 municipalities, benefitting over 5 million workers with more than $3 billion annually. 

5. Organize community events

Community events such as festivals, town halls, and voter registration drives can effectively engage and inform voters. These events provide opportunities for voters to learn about the issues, meet candidates, and understand the voting process. 

voter-engagement-town-hall-event-participation-impact
Source: Congressional Management Foundation

Participation in online town halls has a remarkable positive impact on constituents’ approval of their Members of Congress. In a study, before and after the sessions, participants were asked if they approved of their Member’s job performance. 

The results showed a significant shift: Many who were initially unsure (“don’t know”) about their approval switched to approving after the session. On average, Members’ approval ratings increased substantially, from a +29 to a +47 rating. 

In contrast, constituents in control groups showed no significant change in their approval ratings during the same period.

6. Create a dedicated strategy for low-propensity voters

Low-propensity voters are those who are registered to vote but have a history of not participating. Targeted outreach to these voters can significantly increase turnout. This can include personalized mail, targeted digital ads, and phone calls.

The report titled “Reaching Low-Propensity Voters in California’s November 2020 Elections,” released by California Common Cause and the Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside, highlights findings from a research project aimed at enhancing communication among California’s low-propensity and limited-English speaking voters.

Here are the key observations from the report:

  1. Many voters, especially first-time and low-propensity ones, were uncertain about the new voting options introduced. There was a notable preference for vote-by-mail and ballot drop-off options over in-person voting, driven by concerns about safety and the need for language assistance.
  2. Simplified, visually engaging materials were most effective in reaching and informing voters. Participants responded positively to materials with clear graphics and straightforward explanations about voting options.
  3. Emphasizing the role of trusted community messengers, such as ethnic media and community organizations, was highlighted as crucial for effective outreach. Recommendations included using simple visuals in outreach materials and preparing information on the impact of voting policies.

7. Test messaging that truly encourages voters

Effective messaging is key to voter engagement. Test different messages to see what resonates best with your audience. For instance, emphasizing the impact of voting on local issues can be more motivating than generic get-out-the-vote messages. 

Effective voter turnout strategies hinge on nuanced messaging tactics backed by research findings:

TacticDescriptionExample
Social pressure and norm messagesComparing voter behavior with peers and highlighting social norms.“Most of your neighbors have already voted. Join them and make your voice heard!”
Identity-relevant messagingEmphasizing voting as a crucial part of one’s identity.“As a proud member of our community, your vote is your voice. Stand up and be counted!”
Gratitude and reciprocityExpressing thanks and creating positive expectations.“Thank you for being a dedicated voter! Your commitment makes a difference. See you at the polls!”
Loss aversion framingMessages that frame voting as an opportunity to avoid missing out.“Don’t miss your chance to shape the future! Your vote matters now more than ever.”

Each strategy here plays a crucial role in amplifying voter participation, and it’s clear that informed and empowered voters are the bedrock of a resilient democracy. Each voter engaged is not just a number but a voice that influences policies, shapes communities, and drives change. 

Whether through innovative digital campaigns, grassroots organizing, or inclusive voter education efforts, the goal remains steadfast: to foster a democracy where every voice matters.

Here’s a summary of the voter engagement strategies we discussed in this article:

Voter engagement strategyDescription
Integrated communication strategyUtilizes multiple channels like door canvassing, phone banking, texting, and emails to maintain voter engagement and reach diverse demographics.
Pre-register young votersAllows 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register, increasing future voter turnout significantly by ensuring readiness upon turning 18.
Encourage volunteering among young votersMobilizes youth through volunteer efforts in voter registration drives, canvassing, and phone banking, leveraging their influence among peers.
Integrated voter engagement (IVE) strategyCombines voter mobilization with community organizing to broaden participation and advocate for social justice, impacting policy and voter diversity.
Organize community eventsFestivals, town halls, and voter registration drives provide platforms for voter education, candidate interaction, and process understanding.
Targeted outreach for low-propensity votersUses personalized communication like mail, digital ads, and calls to engage historically low-turnout voters effectively.
Effective messagingTests different message types such as social pressure, identity relevance, gratitude, and loss aversion framing to optimize voter engagement tactics.