The N.C. Democratic Party and Sierra Club have a new tactic to increase turnout this election: Shaming their supporters into voting.
Several registered Democrats received mailings this week reminding them that “public records will tell the community at-large whether you vote or not.”
“It would be an understatement to say that we are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors,” says the letter from N.C. Democratic Party Election Day coordinator Patsy Keever, adding that “we may call you after the November 4th election.”
“If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not,” the letter continues.
The Sierra Club has sent a similar message to 650,000 registered voters in North Carolina, said press secretary Trey Pollard.
“We hope the public record will show that you voted in this upcoming election,” the Sierra Club mailer says, listing how many of the past three elections the recipient has participated in. The recipient’s record is compared with the state average in a bar chart.
Pollard said the mailers were sent to people who are less likely to vote. “They’re using academically proven best practice that will help them to know that people around them in their communities are voting,” he said. “It’s to motivate people who haven’t been to the polls.”
But the mailing also went to active voters. One resident of Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood who received it has participated in each presidential and midterm election since 2008, records show.
Similar tactics have been used in past elections, and studies from the University of Northern Iowa have found that the mailers do increase turnout. The university determined that voters who were mailed information about their public record had a 4 to 6 percent increase in turnout over past elections.
“Part of it’s maybe shame, but part of it is getting people to comply with a social norm,” said Chris Larimer, the political science professor who conducted the study.
The efforts can, however, generate a backlash – but not enough to negate the effect on turnout, Larimer said. “It upsets voters in the sense that we did receive some calls from people who didn’t realize it [the voter information] was publicly available,” he said.
Mailings in past elections have even included the voting records of neighbors. The Democratic Party and Sierra Club didn’t go that far here, but Larimer said including neighbors’ names in the message generates even higher turnout.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party promised to issue a statement on the mailer, but did not do so before press time.