Getting out the vote, without email

December 19, 2017 - 5 minutes read

You’re coming to the final days of the campaign, and you know the feeling. You’re afraid you’re not doing enough with your get out the vote efforts and you think a mass email is the perfect solution. Why not? It’s cheap. It conveys the exact message you want to give. It hits a broad populace. What’s not to like?

What’s not to like are studies that consistently show email engagement does not work, and there are better options available.

gotv minus email article

According to Donald Green and Alan Gerber’s groundbreaking book, Get Out the Vote!: A Guide for Candidates and Campaigns, and subsequent Yale University studies since the book was released, there is nothing to suggest mass email is effective with GOTV efforts. In studies written about by David Nickerson, more than a dozen email experiments refuted the claim that it mobilized voters.” 1 Part of the reason it’s not effective is deliverability is still suspect. In 2016, only 73 percent of all business emails even made it into an inbox. 2 So before one eye sees your message, 27 percent of them are lost or in a spam folder. In addition, the average rate of emails opened and clicked through (opened a link within an email) are 22 and 4 percent, respectively. 3

What matters are messages directed at one voter, not a group of voters. The studies suggest successful strategies that encourage voters to turn out involve personalized messages. This is where a comprehensive texting campaign can be a real game-changer.

The importance of personalization comes from studies showing “door-to-door canvassing was the most consistently effective and efficient method of voter mobilization, and they suggested that the success of canvassing could be attributed to the personal, face-to-face delivery of the GOTV messages.” 4 In short, seeing a candidate; engaging with a candidate; and having the candidate secure the voter’s support is key to successful GOTV. However, for larger races, door-to-door may not be practical or even feasible with areas containing many apartment buildings or gated communities. Therefore, personalizing text messages are an effective, interactive method of outreach. “What gives texting its political power is its ability to cut through a lot of other advertising noise … it offers the nearest thing a candidate can get to ensuring that a message will be opened and read.” 5

A variation of this theme is peer-to-peer texting. This involves having a friend or person within a potential voter’s social circle reach out and encourage the person to vote. Like a text from a candidate, there is a recognizable name behind the message, and the message can be hyper-personalized. The Yale studies suggest interpersonal communication may induce positive results within GOTV campaigns. It does this because the person trusts the sender of the text and the sender is “exerting strong social norms of participation.” 1 In other words, they are exerting peer pressure on the recipient to do the right thing.

Better alternative

CallHub offer numerous text campaign options clients can use to efficiently drive GOTV efforts like Collective Texting, a peer to peer texting service. For example, volunteers log into a system that have the contacts provided by the campaign. With peer-to-peer texting, the volunteer can have a conversation with the recipient as well as record responses. This method uses the personalization tactic to effectively drive the vote. And because it comes from a 10-digit phone and is sent individually, no opt-in is required.

In closing, studies show email GOTV persuasion, with its generic tone and consistent ineffectiveness, is a waste of a campaign’s valuable time and resources. Instead, investing in proven text messaging – with its hyper-personalization, its interactivity, and ability to build a campaign’s supporter list – will make the crucial difference in maximizing persuasion efforts.

Read our guide to Getting out the vote using Collective Texting.


1. Lessons from GOTV experiments. (n.d.). From isps.yale.edu/node/16698

2. Roberts, A. (2016, August 8). Email deliverability is on the decline: report. From www.clickz.com/email-deliverability-is-on-the-decline-report/104466

3. Nelson, J. (2017, May 11). Study: Average Email Open Rate Across Industries Is 22%. From www.mediapost.com/publications/article/300974/study-average-email-open-rate-across-industries-i.html

4. Green, D. P., and Gerber, A. S. (2004). Get out the vote: how to increase voter turnout. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

5. Corasaniti, N. (2015, August 18). Texting Comes of Age as a Political Messenger. From www.nytimes.com/2015/08/19/us/politics/presidential-campaigns-see-texting-as-a-clear-path-to-voters.html

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