The science behind getting people to vote: FOMO

Matt Stempeck
Nov 3, 2016 · 3 min read

In an election, there are factors that influence the outcome that a campaign can control (like messaging) and some it cannot — like the weather.

But in the last days of an election, there is one channel that is more powerful than any other — voters themselves. Each year, the public relations firm Edelman publishes their Trust Barometer, and the numbers back this up: While the public’s trust in the media, experts, and corporate leaders has fallen consistently, trust in “a person like myself” goes up each year.

That means the single most effective way for a campaign to reach a voter is getting voters like you to talk to other potential voters.

At Hillary for America, a number of coordinated teams — from data scientists to web developers to online organizers — have the important mission of supporting the field organizers and volunteers on the ground who spend their days and nights talking to actual voters.

And right now, as we’ve moved into the phase of this election focused on Get Out the Vote that work has never been more important — it literally means the difference between winning and losing.

For years, there wasn’t much public research about GOTV, which isn’t particularly surprising, considering the difficulty of running an experiment when voting is already underway. But a groundbreaking book by Donald Green of Columbia University and Alan Gerber of Yale University called Get Out The Vote has become the bible for political campaigns.

I’s full of important findings like this one: The omnipresent “your vote counts” message isn’t what moves people to go to the polls. Reminders alone don’t improve turnout in any significant way, nor does education about the issues on the ballot.

Instead, these political scientists argue, the most significant influence on turning someone out to vote is social pressure. People go vote when they know that everyone around them is doing it, too. It is basically the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) effect applied to politics.

In other words, you as an individual are the most powerful weapon against low voter turnout. If you tell your friends, family, and co-workers to go vote, you can help sway the outcome of an election.

On this campaign, there are two main ways for you to do that.

The first is knocking on doors, which campaigns call “canvassing.” That means meeting other volunteers at one of our hundreds of field offices across the country and then walking through a neighborhood to have a conversation with voters at their homes. You’ll be paired with an experienced canvasser, and together you’ll work your way through a “walk packet” — a list of likely voters.

The other option is phone banking, which is just what it sounds like: making phone calls to likely voters. It can be done from the comfort of your own home or with other volunteers at one of thousands of phone banks around the country. Hillary for America even built a call tool that provides volunteers with an easy script and a list of voters to call. Your script will help you give voters the information they need to cast a ballot this year. It’s easy, it’s quick, and it has an immediate impact. Plus, most of the time you’re talking to fellow supporters, so you might even meet some interesting, like-minded people.

So now that you’re up to speed on the science of getting out the vote, I need you to apply those lessons. Sign up for a GOTV shift to make sure that your friends, family and neighbors participate in this election at:

And, of course, remember to go vote (and tell a friend — it’s science!).

Green, D. P., & Gerber, A. S. (2015). Get out the vote: How to increase voter turnout. Brookings.

Matt Stempeck

Written by

Digital Organizing at Hillary for America