Got my Eyes on You by Brad Chism

By at May 12, 2014 | 11:37 am | Print

Got my Eyes on You by Brad Chism

Brad Chism

Visual Cues in Social Pressure Mailers: Increasing Voter Turnout Through Political Psychology

We’ve written before about the body of evidence that explicit social pressure helps to increase voter turnout. We’ve had two election cycles with the “do your civic duty!”mailers in one form or another. Some of the most effective mail pieces were simple, black and white postcards sent from “nonpartisan” groups rather than easily identifiable progressive groups.

Leading academics worry privately that the “shaming one to go to the polls” will lose its effect over time: How long before voters are immune to this particular form of social pressure?

A study published recently in Political Psychology by Fordham professor Costas Panagopolous suggests there are additional subtle, implicit visual cues can boost the social pressure component.

The experiment was conducted in the most recent mayoral election in Key West, FL, with three different sets of mailers sent to different groups of voters. They were all black and white 4” x 6” post cards from the Vote Key West Project with the same text about the virtues of voting and a reminder of the election date. They only differed in the picture on the post card. One had an American flag, the second had a palm tree, and the third had an image of a set of eyes facing the recipient.

The author reviewed the vote histories of the recipients of each different mailer and found that the “Eyes” were of much greater impact generating a lift of about 1.1% in voter turnout. This was about twice as strong as the average nonpartisan mailer intervention.

Dr. Panagopolous contends that voters see the eyes looking at them react to the subtle surveillance cues. He suggests that our brains may be evolutionarily programmed to respond to certain stimuli like this potential for surveillance and observability.

The author is quick to call for additional study on the subject as this was a relatively small, low saliency election. Still, the implications for voter turnout efforts are clear:  we may be able to extend the “shelf life” of the social pressure impact on voting with direct mail that includes more subtle, visual cues that remind voters that “they are being watched”. We expect to see progressive mail firms experimenting this fall with different visuals to reinforce the “ got my eyes on you” message.

Click here for a link to the Political Psychology article, And as always, we invite you to

join our voter research conversation on Twitter @ChismStrat.

Brad Chism, Founder, Chism Strategies;  a direct voter contact consultancy integrating telephone contact programs with campaign messaging for Democratic candidates and progressive groups.  

Chism Strategies           P O Box 15870        Washington DC  20003    (202) 430-5963   

2906 North State Street     Suite 302    Jackson   MS  39216   (601) 982-0231




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