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Text Out The Vote: SMS Mobilization Experiments in the 2018 Midterm Elections

Thu, August 29, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Hilton, Cardozo


Text messages have become a popular communication tool to mobilize voters. This paper demonstrates the degree to which text messages impact turnout, and whether the content of the message moderates any treatment effect. Experiments were conducted in 27 states during the 2018 Midterm election in partnership with Vote.Org, a national non-partisan organization dedicated to voter registration and mobilization. Subjects consisted of young and minority voters, selected in an effort to expand participation in midterms among traditionally under-performing populations.

Subjects were block-randomized into treatment condition based on their state of residence, to address variations in voting practices (i.e. Election Day-only, early voting in person, mail ballot only). Each test included Vote.Org's best practice as a control condition, which read "It's Voteā‹…org. Election Day in {city} is in {#} days on Tuesday Nov 6! Join millions of people like you voting in this important election!" Other message conditions built on past research that has demonstrated an increase in turnout, including positive social pressure plus a survey threat, an emphasis on political efficacy, a calendar reminder, anticipatory benefits of voting, and candidates' names. Subjects received approximately 3 texts during the period before Election Day that were consistent to their messaging condition. Voting was measured using public voting records.

Results demonstrate not only that texting can increase turnout among under-performing demographics, but also contribute to our theoretical understanding about what types of messages mobilize voters.


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