Shame to Increase Turnout

>> Monday, October 27, 2008

Shankar Vedantam of the WaPo takes his turn reporting on turnout effects highlighting the famous (or infamous) shaming experiment. As part of the experiment several versions of a letter were sent to different groups. The letter contained increasing levels of information on the voting habits of the target and targets neighbors.


These were the most homely pieces of direct mail in the history of direct mail," said Green, who works at Yale University. "They were sheets of computer paper. They had no graphics and used block courier type. They are the exact opposite of the slick four-color mailings that campaigns send out."

Homely though they were, the letters had a powerful effect. The control group's turnout rate was slightly less than 30 percent. Among those who received the "civic pride" letter, turnout was 6 percent higher than the control group's. Among those who were told they were being studied, it was 12 percent higher. Among those who were shown whether they had voted in the previous election, the turnout was 16 percent higher.

And telling people what everyone in the neighborhood had done the previous Election Day -- and letting them know that they would be similarly informed about the current election -- boosted turnout by 27 percent.

The effectiveness of snitching on neighbors exceeded that of live telephone calls and rivaled that of laborious, face-to-face canvassing, the political scientists wrote in an article published in the American Political Science Review this year. Direct mail costs peanuts compared with other techniques.

I have mixed feelings on this experiment. While i applaud the idea of getting more people to vote i have to believe that we care about intent. By doing this type of mailing we are essentially coercing people into voting with the threat of a public shaming. these people are being coerced into voting. something about that just seems wrong in a society founded on the right to vote. Every right comes with the ability to not exercise that right if a person chooses.

On the other side is the fact that democratic societies rely on the voting public to keep them strong. if people do not participate in the process then politicians will not be held accountable. people will be further turned off of politics as a result of seeing those same politicians go unpunished for ignoring the people. Maybe we need to provide a little incentive for people to use their right. Social pressure is an effective tool in curbing behavior found unacceptable in society. Smoking is down as a result of not only greater education but a stigma attached to it. Not voting has that same stigma which is why people lie about voting. Now though they cannot get away with that.

Some countries even require that people vote or suffer some form of actual punishment. i cant see that ever happening in the states if only because certain interests would prefer that people not vote. This notification letter might be as close as we get.


O-le,O-le, O-le, O-le! O-le, O-le!

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