Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Psychology At Work In Get-Out-The-Vote Political Mailers

Ian Westcott

We know dogs love to get praise, but don’t like to be shamed. Turns out, voters are kind of similar. That’s why get-out-the-vote efforts these days often include a bit of psychology.

In recent days, some Washington voters have received a mailer that says: “Public records show you are usually a good voter! Turnout is high this year, so join your neighbors.” Another mailer says in block letters: “PUBLIC RECORDS SHOW YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED YOUR BALLOT.” On the back are step-by-step instructions for how to vote by mail and a notice that the voter might be called after the election to participate in a survey.

“Each of these little pieces is intentionally included because research shows that they help to increase participation in these kinds of elections,” said Todd Rogers, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He said these aren’t poll-tested messages. They’re actually scientifically developed through randomized experiments.

Regarding the line in the mailer about a possible post-election survey, Rogers said, “We found that adding that actually increased the effectiveness of these get-out-the-vote mailers pretty substantially.”

Rogers said Democrats have really pioneered the use of these proven get-out-the-vote messages in recent years. But his sense is that Republicans are catching up.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."