Can E-Mail Persuade You to Vote?

If an e-mail message from a campaign or non-profit group were to pop up in your inbox on election day asking you to please go down to your polling place and cast your vote, would you do it?

Probably not, if the results of a study by Notre Dame political scientist David Nickerson are any indication. Nickerson conducted 13 field experiments during elections between 2002 and 2004, and found that aggressive e-mail get-out-the-vote campaigns have virtually no effect on voter turnout.

What does seem to persuade people to vote is personal contact, with door-to-door canvassers and especially with co-workers, friends, and family.

That latter point is driven home by another Nickerson paper, published in the American Political Science review, which asks: “Is Voting Contagious?

Dubner and Levitt have written previously about the incentives to vote (or not vote). And Ian Ayres touched on the social aspect of voter persuasion in a recent post, saying that voting might be rational if you do it because you care about your fellow citizens. That squares with research showing that people are more likely to vote if they believe it is socially expected of them.

Okay, now let’s say that election day e-mail is from your friend, or one of your parents: would it convince you to vote?

Laurie Manny

I take great pleasure in deleting all political spam. It makes me yawn...


mfw13, you have elections on work days? That's insane! Work days and queues, and attendance isn't compulsory.

"The Americans got the Puritans, and we got the convicts. No wonder they call us the lucky country"

Ranjit Mathoda

Maybe an email won't convince you to vote, but a social network controlled by a President could be used to orchestrate a movement and bring political pressure on foes. See my essay "The Coming Digital Presidency" at

gene n.

If I weren't going to vote at first place, no email would persuade me, no matter who it came from.


Until the email contains a link directing me to a website where I can log in and vote, no email will persuade me to vote.


I agree. I'm an Organizer, and I don't think email persuades people to do much of anything. It's strange, though... all political types keep hoping it will and accumulate email lists as aggressively as they can.


I mainly vote Libertarian. My friends consider this a throw-away vote and try to convince me to vote with them for their candidate.

There are no throw-away votes. How else could a movement be built?

I will continute to vote for freedom.


I wonder why several unions have negotiated Election Day as a holiday in their CBAs...


My reaction would confirm the research.

I am a registered Democrat who votes regularly and get many, many emails from my state Democratic Party. All get deleted without being read.

I'm guessing that since elections are always on a work days, the biggest factor which affects whether or not people vote is convenience, something that won't be changed by the receipt of an email. If you are running late for work in the morning or exhausted when you get home in the evening, an email isn't going to make you go to the polls.


Doug's right. The people of the Netherlands recently elected two Green Party members to their parliament. It's only by breaking up this dumb English two-party race and moving toward a fairer electoral system that real change can come about. That's what encourages people to vote: the fact that someone is standing for *them*, instead of the same tired, greedy lawyers.


Under no circumstances would that influence me to vote. Only if my vote would be a tie breaker would I actually vote.

El Christador

That just means the "aggressive" e-mails weren't nearly aggressive enough...


I honestly think that the social stigma of not having an "I Voted!" sticker on election day is enough to encourage some people to get out there. I voted in my state's primary, but they were out of stickers, so I had to explain myself to people throughout the rest of the day.

An email plea to run out and vote isn't much better than spam, which has a tiny (but still profitable) click-through rate.


I agree that it is pointless, unless it directs you to the campaigners website, and from there you learn more and decide you like it and vote. However I cant' see a email getting me to change how I would vote, or even motivating me to get out there and vote. I would normally just delete that email, be a little irritated and wonder how the heck I got on that mailing list.

The Baked Blogger


It wouldn't matter at all if someone I knew asked me to vote. I admit though that perceived social and civic duty does compel me, at least in part, to vote each congressional and presidential election. If my parents or friends were very interested in something like who the next freeholder will be (something which I don't - and hardly even can - follow), I would feel more compelled to vote. Social pressure certainly has an effect on people, but I don't see someone simply telling you to do something as having much effect. It's the real social interaction that matters.

Gene Shiau

Email messages alone doesn't cut the mustard for me. However, what will work well is for the email to attach a map showing me the nearest voting stations and the hours. :)