Turns out voters like getting letters and gifts in the mail.
That’s the latest finding from Vote Forward, an affiliate of hybrid PAC Swing Left. Vote Forward, a nonprofit, has famously championed letter writing campaigns as a way to increase voter turnout.
Now, the group is saying that its partially handwritten letters sent in 2022 by volunteers to voters as part of a national GOTV effort in targeted races that contained small gifts — like a magnet or something as simple as a sticky note — boosted turnout even more.
“We found that those enclosure letters had a 0.6 to 0.7 percentage point effect on turnout, which is really exciting,” said Yasmin Radjy, Vote Forward’s executive director.
That was just one of the multiple randomized controlled trials that the group conducted during the 2022 midterms, which saw volunteers send a total of 5.6 million letters to voters.
Other findings include an observed 0.2 percentage point increase in turnout associated with letters featuring climate messaging. That prompted additional questions that the group tested in 2023 in Virginia.
“We tested climate, reproductive freedom and gun violence prevention messaging with [a] particular focus on young voters to see: do these issues resonate in a different way in this handwritten letter format? So we’ll have more on that hopefully very soon,” Radjy said.
Ultimately, the success of the program is based on how its volunteers are coached to write the handwritten portion of the letter. (The letter includes some standard language that the group writes itself.)
“Our current guidance for volunteers is actually based off prior experimentation that we’ve done where we found evidence to suggest that coaching volunteers and how to write what we call ‘personal stories’ that are really grounded in real life experiences that they or others are having is a way to make these messages even more effective,” said Emily Wasserman, data and research director for Vote Forward.
“It’s less about constraining exactly the words that they put on the page and more about encouraging them to reach into their own experiences and reach into the experiences of others to provide a message that is going to be compelling.”
She added: “The reason that we do this, in general, is because when you are writing at the scale that we are writing, with millions of letters, you simply cannot know for sure whether any particular script or issue is going to resonate with a particular voter. But we do know that messages that are perceived as authentic … are more likely to penetrate regardless of what the specific content is.”
What’s interesting is that despite the personal nature of these letters, those featuring an abortion-access message weren’t as effective as the climate-issue letter. The group is continue to explore why that was the case, but Wasserman noted: “One thread of this is that the targeting really matters.
“I think that we could have been more specific with our targeting in 2022 because with some of this messaging, I think it really is important to find the voters who we think are likely to be most responsive to that kind of personal message and who are in a context where we can draw a clear throughline from this issue to the election,” she said. “In 2022, it may have been the case that the throughline from this issue to the results of the election was just not as clear in that electoral context.”
Other findings the group announced included how a link to a candidate guide raised turnout among voters of color by 0.6 percentage points in Wisconsin’s 2023 Supreme Court election and letters providing nonpartisan information contrasting Nevada’s secretary of state candidates increased overall turnout by 0.5 percentage points.