Feeling helpless about the US election? Five things you can do to get out the vote in 2016

Wear ’em with pride.
Wear ’em with pride.
Image: Reuters/Chris Keane
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You really care about this election, and you know that voter turnout will decide the outcome—so you’ve voted early, or made your plan about how you’ll get to the polls on election day. But you can make your vote go even further by making sure your like-minded friends and family also vote.

Here are some simple strategies from the behavioral scientist’s toolbox that you can use to get out the vote in your social circle.

1. The most straightforward is just to ask, “will you vote?” It sounds obvious, but it works: people are more likely to do a good deed when they’re explicitly asked to do it than if you wait for them to volunteer. It looks and feels much worse to have to say “no” than it does to simply avoid the issue (or to lie about it).

2. The next is to ask if your friends and family members have a voting plan. Simply saying “Hey, when are you going to vote?” or “How are you getting to the polls?” can make a huge difference. Asking not only helps people develop a plan, it also eliminates excuses for not voting—and makes it harder to get away with going to the golf course when you said you’d be voting booth. 

Asking people about their voting plan was so effective when it was first tried that it is widely employed in get out the vote letters, and has even been adopted by the Hillary Clinton campaign. As you might imagine, it is particularly effective to have this discussion in front of others, either in person or via social media sites like Facebook.

3. If your friends or family aren’t sure if they’ll vote this year, but have voted in previous elections, remind them of their past voting. Ask, “You usually vote, don’t you?” and maybe follow up with, “Do you think the last election was more important than this one?” Pointing out their inconsistency can work by calling into question their motivation not only in this election, but for past elections, too. If they argue that they don’t like Clinton or Donald Trump, suggest they focus on down-ballet candidates and issues.

4. If most of your friends or family are voting, say so: “I talked to Sarah, Eliza, and Michael, and they’re all voting. What about you?” Knowing that others are voting will make those who are on the fence more likely to vote as well. This strategy—one of the most widely used in all of the behavioral sciences—makes people feel compelled to vote because it establishes that voting is the norm and is expected in your circle.

5. Our last suggestion: Tell folks you might follow up with them about whether they voted. For example, say, “I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience at the polls!” or, “I’ll ask you how it all goes!” Why? Now they know that someone is paying attention—that you’ll be stoked if they vote, and bummed if they don’t. In a recent study, this approach increased the impact of an already-effective get out the vote letter by 50%.

Now, get to it—and let us know how it goes.