Can you raise electoral registration with social media ads?

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today it’s another piece of research from Florian Foos, who I recently did a podcast with looking at the evidence into what does and doesn’t work in election campaigning.

He’s got a new working paper out with three colleagues, looking at how social media adverts in the UK failed to raise electoral registration:

We provide evidence from three digital trials that show that social media campaigns were ineffective at registering groups of under-registered voters, studied at two separate UK elections…

The studies were also conducted by different organisations in different elections, which gives confidence that our results are not due to one particular messenger or a specific electoral contest: the first messenger was an advocacy organisation in a general election; the second is a researcher-led campaign conducted in a local election; and the third campaign was run by an advocacy organisation also at a local election.

The paper also includes a handy summary of other research to date:

Some studies show that social media advertising campaigns produce relatively small positive effects on voter turnout (Bond et al. 2012), or they find that treatment effects are conditional (Haenschen and Jennings 2019) or, more frequently, null (Haenschen 2022; Aggarwal et al. 2023; Coppock forthcoming)…

Typical voter mobilisation campaigns often deploy a strategy of raising awareness about the efficacy of the vote, employing “cognitive mobilisation” messages such as “Your Vote Matters” or “Don’t Miss Out”. However, there is scepticism about whether such cognitive mobilisation messages actually work (Holbein and Hillygus 2020; Hersh 2020). Despite this concern, the lack of robust evidence means that many campaigns keep on relying on exactly these kind of messages using social media platforms…

There is also mixed evidence on whether digital ad campaigns can affect party vote shares (Hager 2019; Coppock et al. 2022; Aggarwal et al. 2023).

Null Effects of Social Media Ads on Voter Registration: Three Digital Field Experiments

Here is the paper in full.

You can read the other posts in the Evidence-based campaigning: what the academic research says series here.

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