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Features : Editorial Last Updated: Oct 24, 2012 - 9:44:10 AM

Want to get-out-the-vote? Try these three questions
By Steve Ferber
Oct 24, 2012 - 9:43:08 AM

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Todd Rogers knows what it takes to get people to the voting booth. According to a piece authored by NPR correspondent Alix Spiegel this summer, Rogers has nearly perfected the series of questions to ask when you’re working the phone bank, urging people to vote.  
In her piece, Spiegel quotes Rogers, a Harvard professor and behavioral psychologist, who leaned on research in cognitive psychology to design his three simple questions.  Traditionally, callers ask simply: “Are you planning to vote on Election Day?”, but this inquiry, when tested, fails to impact the voting rate.  So Rogers, according to Spiegel, created these three questions to get-out-the-vote:
1. About what time do you expect you'll head to the polls on Tuesday?
2. What do you think you'll be doing before you head to the polls that day? and
3. Where do you expect you'll be coming from when you head to the polls?
Explained Rogers, as quoted in Spiegel’s piece: “There's a lot of research showing that thinking through the actual moment when you will do something makes it more likely that the behavior will pop into your mind at the appropriate time.”
Spiegel’s interpretation: “Essentially, the questions plant a cognitive seed deep in your brain that sits there, mostly forgotten, until you arrive at the moment you talked about during the call. And then, says Rogers, ‘It pops into my head! 'Oh! I said I was going to vote now!' ' "
In recent years, research by Rogers and colleagues has revealed that even subtle changes in phone-call scripts can have a dramatic impact on voter behavior.  In one study, authored by Rogers, Christopher Bryan, Gregory Walton, Todd Rogers and Carol Dweck, simply changing a verb to a noun had a notable impact. For example, one group of potential voters was asked: “How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?” while another group was asked: “How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?” Apparently, invoking a person’s self-identity was more effective in getting voters to the polls.  
In her piece, NPR’s Spiegel explained: “. . . a lot of the conventional wisdom that dominates current political campaigns, it’s just wrong.” Case in point: political endorsements from celebrities. According to Columbia University’s Donald Green, as quoted by Spiegel: “The robocall had no detectable effect whatsoever. We're batting, basically, a perfect zero for all these robocall celebrity endorsements.”
In addition to Rogers’ skilled crafted questions, what other methods work for getting-out-the-vote?  Studies by Rogers and colleagues point to two:  
• Emphasize high (not low) turnout.  A standard message for encouraging voter turnout is to lament the nation’s traditionally low turnout – hovering just under 50% nationally.  But Rogers and colleagues have found quite the opposite.  Speaking to writer Marguerite Rigoglioso at a Standard Business School forum this past March, Rogers explained that emphasizing low-voter turnout actually de-motivates voting. Rigoglioso quoted Rogers as saying: “This is because people are fundamentally social beings, and so the behavior of others influences their behavior,” he explained.  Bottom line: tell folks that turnout will be high, and they’re more likely to show up.
• Create accountability – Columbia University’s Green told Spiegel that making people accountable also is a huge motivating force.  Spiegel quoted Green: “. . . when you indicate to people that you are watching them, by mailing them records that show how often they and their neighbors have voted, that really gets them to the polls, too.”
So, today, just one question for you: about what time do you expect you'll head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 6?
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