Despite a murky regulatory picture and increased saturation, peer-to-peer texting still has the potential to increase voter turnout, according to recent data.
The latest finding, from Tech for Campaigns’ analysis of its own 2020 program that sent some 1.4 million texts into 27 states, found that “people texted by TFC turned out to vote 0.7 percentage points (p.p.) more than their untexted counterparts in the same districts.”
Moreover, TFC found that voters scored “least likely” to vote by TargetSmart “voted at a rate nearly three times higher than similar voters we didn’t text.” But higher turnout voters “saw no change in turnout when sent a text,” according to the report, which noted that 11.6 billion campaign-related texts were sent in the last three months of the 2020 election.
The report also notes that campaigns should monitor the responses to their P2P messages. “Generating a positive reaction to a text is the best indication that someone will go vote,” the report states. “Registered voters that responded positively to a text message had a higher net turnout rate (+5 percentage points) than those who did not respond or those who opted-out from receiving future messages.”
The group, which provides technology solutions to down-ballot Democratic campaigns, also saw a reversal of a 2018 trend. In last midterm election, issue-based messaging worked best for Democratic voters, but in 2020 “it was basic, prosaic voting information about ballot boxes or drop-off locations that worked best,” according to Greg Dale, TFC’s Interim CEO.
Campaigns should be “making sure there’s value in the exchange throughout,” Dale told C&E. “Texting is an important part of running a campaign. It’s still too much of an afterthought for folks.”
One reason why texting may become more top of mind for campaigns is the carriers’ regulatory enforcement, particularly 10DLC. That’s partly why TFC and other vendors are warning campaigns against simply getting a platform license and assigning their texting program to a staffer or volunteer.
For instance, TFC said it tested the effectiveness of different opt-out language that was required by the carriers last fall.
“The stock standard suggestions of what works, and what doesn’t, doesn’t really play out in practice,” said Dylan Holmes, a program director at TFC. “Whether it’s regulation or whether it’s fundamental shifts in the party or the technology available, things will change — and the anything-goes approach from previous cycles doesn’t work anymore.”
For texting programs looking for added effectiveness, consider social pressure. A recent study from researchers at Columbia University analyzed the impact friends texting each other to vote using the app Outvote had ahead of the 2018 midterms. It found that there was a 8.26-percent increase in turnout among those who received a message from a friend.
“It looks like texts from friends or close contacts might be as effective as a door-to-door canvasser,” said Columbia University’s Aaron Schein, a co-author of the paper, in a recent presentation.
Now that’s an enormous number, that was recieved skeptically by some practioners: “If friend-to-friend texting increased turnout by 8pp, Governors Andrew Gillum & Stacey Abrams would be hanging out rn. Would love if this finding were plausible, but it’s so far removed from any GOTV texting experiment results I’ve run, even in midterms,” Ben Wessel, former executive director at NextGen America, tweeted June 8.