Moving the Campaign From the Front Door to the Front PocketBy Laura Sudulich on 22 December 2016
Based on their forthcoming article in JEPOP, this post is from Yosef Bhatti (KORA, the Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research), Jens Olav Dahlgaard (University of Copenhagen), Jonas Hedegaard Hansen (University of Copenhagen) and Kasper M. Hansen (University of Copenhagen)
Widespread voter abstention remains a challenge in most established democracies. As a response to the challenge of low turnout, interest organizations, authorities and scholars have issued campaigns with the purpose of increasing voter turnout rates. A vast literature has investigated the effects of such campaigns, but most of these studies have relied of traditional modes of contact such as door-to-door canvassing, mailings and phone calls. Few have studied the effect of short text messages, especially outside the U.S.
We study the effects of four SMS field experiments spanning more than 300,000 voters in two Danish elections. We find intention-to-treat effects between 0.33 and 1.82 percentage points with a pooled effect of 0.74 percentage points. That is, individuals assigned to receive a text message have a 0.74 percentage point higher tendency to vote than those assigned to be control. We also vary the timing and the content of the messages and in one experiment find messages delivered before Election Day to have a higher effect than those delivered on Election Day, while we find no additional effect of delivering multiple messages. We generally do not find significant differences from sending messages with different content.
Altogether, the results indicate that it is possible to increase voter turnout by sending short text messages encouraging individuals to vote. The content of these messages does not seem to matter greatly, but the timing may be more important as individuals need some time to plan voting. The moderate effect sizes are especially interesting given that short text messages are inexpensive in comparison with traditional modes of voter content. However, we emphasize that text messages are no panacea to the participation challenges many democracies are facing. For instance, the difficulty of phone number enrichment makes it difficult to target specific groups, especially some of the groups campaigns are in most need of reaching. All in all, text messages can be a useful mode of communication to use when trying to increase turnout, but it does not remove the relevance of other types of attempts to increase turnout.