Groups running turnout operations often use varied messaging to drive voters to the polls without knowing exactly what’s most effective.
“We know that this is going to happen again in 2020,” said Mike Ward, who heads voter engagement at Democracy Works, a non-profit, non-partisan group whose mission is increase voter turnout.
“People are going to come out of the woodwork to activate voters, and their campaigns are not going to be based on any previous [research].”
Ward can now point groups to a new study that Democracy Works did with The Ad Council, which looked at, among other things, the most effective messaging frames per age group (boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z) to drive turnout. The five frames were: issue, empowerment, identity, companionship and plan/ease.
Issue framing was characterized this way:
“I vote because there are important issues that deserve my attention and action. I make an effort to keep up with the issues that are important to me, and I do my homework to identify the candidates that support my stance. When I vote, I’m voting for or against a cause that I feel strongly about and to impact issues that are meaningful to me”
That type of messaging, when it appears genuine, is the most effective across all the generations, the researchers found.
“The second-most appealing and inspiring message frame differs by age,” the researchers wrote. “Older generations (boomers and Gen X) are more drawn to messages of Identity, as these generations are more likely to feel that voting is part of who they are. After Issue, younger generations (millennials and Gen Z) most prefer messages of Empowerment — that they count, and so does their vote.”
Based on their 2018 participation, younger voters (Gen Z, millennials) are set to be an influential bloc in 2020. A Tufts University study found recently that nearly all of their some 1,000 participating campuses saw voting rates increase last cycle over 2014. “[N]early half of institutions saw their rate increase between 15-24 percentage points.”
Now, these are voters that are most effectively inspired to vote by using an issue framing. For instance, 33 percent of Gen Z and 32 precent of millennials said that they’re “more inspired” by issues, according to the Democratic Works/Ad Council Study.
The study was extensive, taking place in three phases. It started with social listening that focused on understanding generational differences for why citizens voted.
The researchers used social listening tools to capture online conversation that took place over more than three years from January 1, 2016 through April 30, 2019. The second phase included 73 participants, who engaged in a two-day online discussion “followed by eight webcam interviews, explored voting perceptions and reactions to message frames.” The last phase was quantitative: it included a 15-minute field interview of roughly 400 respondents per generation in early July.
“We do know that voter engagement messaging is most effective when it’s delivered right before a deadline,” Ward added.
It also helps if the voter is seeing the message in the right context — like a display ad for a candidate appearing while a voter is searching for his or her polling place.
“You’re not only using good messaging, but you’re doing it in a way that the user will feel that it’s not a disjointed call to action,” said Ward.