idk, my bff jill?

“Obama will us his running mate! Text Vp to 62262”

Welcome the brave new world of youth politics. With texting costs ridiculously high in the US, however, one might wonder why would Obama spend the money to send millions of text messages for seems to be a sort of campaigning gimmick. Let’s explore.

You might know that the Student Union is sponsoring a large voter registration drive this upcoming semester. You might also know that Loki and I have both signed up to direct this whole effort. We’ll have different clubs competing to see who can register the most people, possibly a large scoreboard showing which clubs are ahead, maybe flash the names of the latest student to register, etc.

If you go out registering voters, on campus, off campus, in Ohio, wherever, please don’t forget to get their cell phone numbers and email addresses, if possible. Now, intuitively this makes sense, right? If you get someone’s contact info then you can email/text them on election day to remind them to actually go out and vote. Well, Garrett M. Graff, a former Webmaster for Howard Dean, just wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times explaining the world of text-the-vote:

But announcing Mr. Obama’s running mate by text message has little to do with proclaiming the selection and everything to do with getting out the vote on Election Day in November. The move should add thousands — and more likely tens or hundreds of thousands — of cellphone numbers to what is already one of the most detailed political databases ever created.

A study conducted during the 2006 elections showed that text-message reminders helped increase turnout among new voters by four percentage points, at a cost of only $1.56 per vote — much cheaper than the $20 or $30 per vote that the offline work of door-to-door canvassing or phone banking costs.

Let’s take a look at this study, shall we? Believe it or not, texting is really cheap. Here’s the relevant passage:

Canvassing is more effective than text messaging on a person-by-person basis, but the contact rate during canvassing is much lower than that for text messaging. When considering the treatment-on-treated effect, text messaging is twice as effective as three physical mailings (Gerber and Green 2000), and about as effective as a professional, quality phone call made in the week before Election Day.

So texting is cheap and effective, but not as effective or cheap as face-to-face contact. Then again, texting can reach a lot of people faster than canvassing can.

In general, one thing to realize is that cell phone numbers are very valuable to campaigns. Cell phones can’t be robocalled or polled. The Yellow Pages and Election Boards don’t have them. In order to get on a cell phone texting list, you have to opt in by texting to a specific number yourself.

The study goes on to explore the reactions of those that received these GOTV messages. Reaction was mostly positive: people felt that the text messages were either helpful or neutral. 25% of respondents said that the messages helped them vote, only <1% said that the reminder made them less likely to vote. Beware, however. Unlike what you might expect, including a hotline number to help people find their polling place reduces their positive reaction compared to a shorter message. So keep it short and sweet.

Lastly, the study finds that young voters prefer passive communication (texting, emails, and snail mail) over interactive reminders to get out the vote (such as calling or canvassing). Yet canvassing is very effective. I wonder why that is. Young voters are also much more likely to say that don’t have time to vote, rather than they don’t have the information on where to vote.

A civic duty message “voting is essential to democracy” and a close-election message “Elections often come down to few votes—so please vote!” don’t really matter either way, and you might even drop any sort of message beyond “vote TOMORROW, kthanxbi” and still get the same effect.

So yeah. Take this knowledge out to the world and register yourself some new voters.


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