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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Leveraging Word Choice in Pre-Election Surveys

Attention Democratic campaign workers: Keith Pickering has a don’t-miss post up at Daily Kos “WOW! Simple wording change dramatically increases voter turnout.” It’s all about how pre-election surveys can make a significant difference in GOTV. Pickering quotes from a PHYSorg.com article by Bob Yirka about a new study conducted by Stanford University social psychologist Christopher Bryan and his colleagues, Gregory M. Walton, Todd Rogers, and Carol S. Dweck:

Bryan and his team first sent out surveys to just 38 people prior to the 2008 presidential election. Half the group got a survey asking if it was important to vote, the other half got surveys asking if it was important to be a voter. 87.5 [percent] responded yes to the second question while only 55.6 [percent] did so with the first.
Feeling he was on to something, Bryan then set his sights higher, for his next experiment, he and his team sent surveys to 133 registered voters in California one day before the 2008 election. Afterwards, using voting records, he was able to ascertain that 82% of those who got the “vote” question actually voted, while 96% of the “voter” group did [actually vote].

Bryan and his colleagues noted very similar results in a New Jersey test, which found a 90 percent turnout for the ‘voter’ group vs. 79 percent for the ‘vote’ group, “the largest ever measured effect on voter turnout.”
The authors attribute the increased turnout to leveraging the power of ‘personal identity’ as a motivating force vs. asking about behavior in the abstract — an “are you a good citizen?” subtext.
Pickering provides a handy never-say-this/always-say-this-instead chart for pre-election GOTV surveys, which campaign workers should study (e.g.: Say “Are you going to be a voter on Tuesday?” instead of “Are you going to vote on Tuesday?”)
It could make a difference in close elections. As Pickering concludes, “A 10% to 15% increase in turnout for a tiny word change? Miracles don’t come any cheaper. ”

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