Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – whether text messaging can raise electoral registration and turnout.
The answer is yes sometimes…
We present and compare the results of two RCTs [random control trials] that aimed to increase voter registration in the UK using SMS text messages, relying mainly on non-cognitive, behavioural messaging.
The study contrasts the large and positive effects of a text message intervention conducted in collaboration with a local authority with the null findings obtained from a similar experiment conducted in the same election with an issue advocacy organisation.
In the local authority trial, we randomly-assigned unregistered citizens to receive a series of text messages or not to receive any message, while in the advocacy organisation trial, we randomly assigned subjects to receive text messages, either with or without a textback/callback option, or not to receive any message.
The local authority’s text messages resulted in an increased registration rate of eight percentage-points, which translates into a three percentage-points increase in turnout.
The advocacy organisation’s text messages neither increased voter registration, nor turnout.
The striking differences in results lead us to hypothesise that the type of mobilising organisation might matter for the effectiveness of voter registration campaigns conducted via text messaging.
Source: “When do text messages increase voter registration? Comparative evidence from RCTs with a local authority and an advocacy organisation in the UK” by Florian Foos, Peter John, Asli Unan and Vanessa Cheng-Matsuno.