How to Increase Voter Turnout (4 research-backed methods)

May 25, 2018 - 7 minutes read

When people go out to vote on election day, it isn’t just the charisma of a great candidate that brings them to the polls. Yes, having an inspiring candidate goes a long way to running a competitive race, but it is the targeted approach campaigns take to identifying prospective voters, and the personalized messaging that gets the ball rolling.

Political campaigns are investing heavily in learning about voters and using the data to create well-informed citizens who’ll get out the vote on election day. But here we are in 2018, and voter turnout is still a major issue.

Voter turnout in the US, for example, still lags behind most developed countries at around 55%. The average numbers are in part due to policy changes that are slow to catch up to other countries like Australia, Germany or Canada which register much higher turnout rates.

Canada, for example, which registered a 62.12% voter turnout in the 2015 federal elections, automatically updates the electoral roll if a voter moves from one state to another.

Canadian election offices send voter information cards to all registered voters in the weeks leading up to a federal election to inform people about their polling location and when to vote. It also introduced same day registration which allows people who haven’t registered to register at the polls on election day.

Few countries have also expanded their registration drive to automatically register high schoolers and add their names to the voter roll once they’ve reached voting age.

Campaigners need to work within the confines of policy to make sure that supporters register to vote and get to the polls on election day. We’ll look at the strategies that are proven to be most effective at turning out voters.

Repeated personal contact

Door-to-door canvassing and phone banking are particularly effective at turning out voters, including those who haven’t voted much in the past. The personal social contact that is inherent in these two communication mediums is noted by political science experiments as the driving force inspiring people to vote.

We can note this difference through studies that pit commercial phone banks against volunteer-led phone banks. While GOTV efforts through commercial phone banks boosted voter turnout by less than 1 percentage, a volunteer-led phone bank raised it by nearly 3 percentage points.

And when these same voters were contacted repeatedly over calls, outreach efforts were twice as effective at creating committed voters.

Campaigns need to shift from turnout strategies that are easily disregarded by the public and turn to more personal and engaging channels like canvassing and phone calls. And rather than using these tactics as a one-stop strategy, they need to be consistently employed across the duration of the campaign.

Learn how to use phone banking, door to door canvassing and text messages to Get Out The Vote.

Social pressure

Get Out The Vote messages that use social pressure to motivate people to vote are effective at increasing turnout. Results from political science experiments during the 2006 Michigan primary elections show that when voters were reminded through a GOTV mailer that their participation was a matter of public record and that their neighbors knew whether they voted or not, voter turnout shot up by almost 8 percent.

Appeals to voters should incorporate some degree of social pressure, through strategies like appeals to peoples civic sense, reminders that their participation is a matter of public record, presenting information of turnout records from the neighborhood, and other methods that stress the social norm of voting.

Creating well-informed voters

A complex voter registration process coupled with a lack of information on election dates, polling locations, and deadlines all factor into suppressed voter turnout rates.

While some states have enacted automatic voter registration as well as implemented policy changes allowing for early voting, absentee ballots, election day registration, and vote at home; a vast majority of voters are still not aware of the policy changes and how it can ease the voting process.

Modern voter outreach tools like peer-to-peer texting and friend-to-friend outreach coupled with traditional channels like phone calls, broadcast texts, email and social media should be incorporated throughout your voter outreach to create well-informed voters who are as a result more inclined to go out to vote.

Strike a contrast with the opponent

Many voters remain apathetic about the voting process and their involvement with it because they’re unaware of how items on a candidates agenda directly affect their lives.

Many others are aware of the policy positions of your candidate and still don’t turn out to vote because your messaging does not strike a contrast with the opponent.

Voters who only hear one side of the story tend to believe that both candidates will enact the same policies. They need to be made aware of the distinction and how certain policy positions improve their lives while others don’t.

The strategy is particularly effective when contacting under-represented groups and swing voters to get them to see how casting the ballot in favour of your candidate can make their lives better (compared to how worse off they’d be by voting for an opponent).

The final vote

Deciding to go out to vote should ideally be a subconscious decision that a voter makes on their own. But we’re not there yet, and getting there requires targeted efforts that can make the advantages of voting clear as day. This requires campaigners to talk to people, again and again, create well-informed voters and make sure they have an easy time getting out the vote.