By: Dave Odegard 86
If you’ve had a chance to log on to your social media accounts, then you’ve probably experienced the deluge of tweets and status updates that either brag about voting, urge you to go down to your polling place to cast your ballot in this year’s election, or both.
Just hop on twitter and click the trending topic I Voted to see a healthy cross-section of proudly patriotic voters. Facebook is full of groups of pages that users just need to like to showoff that they cast their ballots today. People seem to be particularly taken to using the hot-at-the-moment Instagram for their bragging/voting rights, turning it into pretty much just a stream of pictures showcasing “I Voted” stickers and checked off ballots. Even FourSquare is getting in on the act, by rolling out an “I Voted” badge.
For the most part, the inundation of bragging about voting on social networking seems to be pretty bi-partisan (Though #VoteObama is the top sponsored trending topic on twitter). The majority of users seem to be following the same script of “I voted. Did you?” or “It doesn’t matter who you voted for, just remember to vote.”
And as the day progresses this surge of election excitement is only going to get worse. In fact, there’s a chance that this Election Day will actually break twitter - though that will probably have more to do with reporting and checking the results than people boasting about voting.
If there’s one thing we can take away from the first half of Election Day 2012, it’s that this was the “Social Media Election.” It kind of makes sense, since the number of users for both Facebook and twitter have just exploded over the last four years. But it seems like there’s a more concentrated effort by the online hive mind to remind people of their role in American democracy. And it’s odd, because so much of the coverage of this election has been focused on early voter turnout, which is how many credit Obama beat John McCain in several battleground states during the 2008 election, and a strategy highly focused on by the Romney campaign.
So why is everyone online pressuring each other to vote and/or gloating about their Election Day activity?
Because it’s meant to shame you.
One of the big playbooks for both campaigns is the book Get Out the Vote. Written by Donald Green and Alan Gerber, who both teach political science at Yale University, the book studies every major election cycle from 1998 to 2007 and really changed how modern political campaigns are run. Green and Gerber found that traditional techniques like robocalls, leaflets, mailings, and mass emails don’t really work in getting people to vote. Instead they found the best motivation for increasing voter participation was shaming people.
It seems that creating social pressure to urge people to vote, especially when pointed out that whether or not someone voted is public knowledge, is much more effective than informing people on the issues or encouraging them of their responsibilities as a citizen. This is why most campaigns now have volunteers ask people “When are you voting?” and not “Are you voting?” It’s also why they focus on reaching out to their base with campaign workers visiting registered party members and talking to them without a script. It’s a subtle change that the Obama campaign took to heart four years ago and which Republican strategist have adopted as well.
It also translates incredibly easily to social media, which wasn’t really as big four years ago—sure a lot of people were on Facebook, but the number of users on twitter was less than half they are now and Instagram wasn’t even around.
The campaigns and their surrogates just post a few encouragements in the language that assumes people are going to vote instead of asking them to do it. Add in a user base that’s constantly looking for SOMETHING to share and/or comment on and it takes off from there.
Of course, the cynic in us finds the use of peer pressure to get people to do their civic duty to be more than a little disconcerting, but the idealist in us is okay with it. That being said….We voted already. Have you voted yet?
[Pic via screengrab]