It is election season, and almost everyone realizes what’s at stake this year. (There really is a lot at stake in every election, but more on that in a future article!)
I recently hosted a webinar for a committed Northern Virginia advocates from the NOVA Coalition, a group of African American advocates that I helped create in 2008, on voter persuasion. While voter turnout methods have changed a lot in ten years, some aspects remain the same.
We consistently hear how voter turnout in the United States is lower than other countries, and how the outcome would have been different in 2016 if more people would have voted. While it is not an easy process, we can all play a role in getting people to the polls.
Americans aren’t as lazy as you think.
While voter turnout in the US in 2016 was 56%, and other nations are in the 80%+ range, many of those nations have compulsory voting.
Voter registration is only one step.
While voter registration is obviously necessary to vote, as much effort should be focused on getting out the vote (GOTV). Political campaigns have sophisticated methods of targeting voters that should also be adopted by nonpartisan organizations and issue campaigns.
Understand why they don’t want to vote.
In order to convince them to vote, you need to know why they don’t plan to vote. The top excuses for 2016 were dislike of the candidates and dislike of the issues. Then you can respond. Likely, there is something about one of the candidates they would like, and an issue that affects them.
Connect the election to their everyday lives.
There has to be an issue that they are concerned about that is being discussed. If there isn’t, encourage them to reach out to the campaign. (If there is time). Or, that may be a reason to vote for a challenger if an issue they are concerned about has not had movement by the incumbent.
Influencers and peer pressure can work wonders.
Two words, Taylor Swift! Love her or hate her, her recent Instagram post which increased voter registration numbers is a classic example of the power of influence. Be sure you know of influencers’ actions to share with your prospective voter that may be impactful for them. Also, the environment that you approach people in can be key. Advocates have tried outreach in hair salons because that is where a lot of us go on a regular basis and there can be a congenial peer pressure around spirited conversations. Who wants to be shamed for not exercising their civic duty?!
Know the issues and candidates before you try to convince someone else.
You have to be ready to respond to their particular issues and concerns. Understand your community and the issues at play. It is more work, but definitely worth it.
Make a personal connection.
Whether the prospective voter is in your family, or someone you meet on the street, you need to establish a connection to address their concerns and show that you have some amount of credibility. If you don’t know them, ask a few questions about their thoughts on their community and what they would like to see.
Get them to commit.
Research shows that if people commit, they are more likely to vote, similar to accountability circles. Get them to commit verbally or through an online or hard copy pledge card.
There are more ways to change the system.
There are many structural issues which prevent people from voting. We should also consider the merits of advocating for systems which allow voting for formerly convicted persons, same day registration, vote by mail, increased funding to ensure sufficient numbers of voting machines and reduce waiting in voting lines, and improving ballots to be more clear to the voter.