How Much Can Relational Organizing Boost Turnout in Down Ballot Races? — A Lot!

Last year, I wrote a blog post about the efficacy of relational organizing (supporters reaching out to friends, family and neighbors vs. traditional outreach where volunteers reach out to strangers). With another year under our belt, I thought I would provide an update on research we conducted with Professor Lindsey Cormack in 2016 and Catalist in 2017. In these studies, supporters utilized VoterCircle to send messages to their friends to support an upcoming election.

Professor’s Cormack’s study on Measure A, a parcel tax for the Menlo Park City Elementary School District, was particularly compelling from a research perspective. The parcel tax was the only election on the ballot that voters could vote on. As a result, voter data not only indicated whether an individual voted, but also the specific race they voted on. Professor Cormack’s research study, Leveraging Peer-to-Peer Connections to Increase Voter Participation in Low Salience Elections, found the “For those who did not vote in 2014, the receipt of a VoterCircle email is associated with a 25% (s.e. 7%) increased likelihood in voting, and for those who did vote in 2014, the associated increased likelihood in voting is 30% (s.e. 3%).”

Professor Cormack writes “ These results suggest that is it not so much the medium, but the messenger that matters in driving turn out. In an increasingly technologically powered and impersonal world, the power of human connection still prevails.” Professor Cormack ends the study concluding: “For practitioners and campaigns the take away is quite clear — the reception of an email from a peer facilitated by the VoterCircle platform is associated with a significant increase in the likelihood that the recipient casts a ballot. For no demographic did a VoterCircle email lead to fewer votes, and instead it is quite impactful across many subgroups. In a reality where local elections turn on fewer voters, campaigns continue to rise in cost, and levels of voter trust erode, platforms such as VoterCircle may be a best bet. This method leverages peer-to-peer connections to inform voters, reduce costs for those running campaigns, and effectively increases voter participation.”

In 2017, we worked with Win Virginia in over 50 House of Delegates races in Virginia. Recently, Catalist examined turnout rates as a function of the Catalist Vote Propensity Model that compared turnout of voters opening a relational email through VoterCircle versus the general electorate. For high propensity voters (65+), mid propensity voters (35–65) and low propensity voters (0–35) the turnout increase was 8%; 11% and 13%, respectively. For voters completing a one question survey whether they would support a given candidate, the turnout increase was 13%, 28% and 35% for high, mid and low propensity voters.

As we continue to do more research on relational organizing, the results are clear — relational organizing can be extremely effective and is likely one of the most powerful methods of increasing voter turnout. The key is figuring out the best ways to scale relational organizing (see our NDTC blog posts on relational organizing best practices and relational organizing lessons from the midterms). I am excited to see how relational organizing develops in the coming years.

Sangeeth Peruri is the CEO and founder of VoterCircle, a friend-to-friend outreach platform that dramatically reduces the time and cost of outreach. He serves on the boards of the Los Altos School District, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, Principal’s Exchange, Think Together and Beyond12. In his spare time, he is a fitness fanatic and competed on American Ninja Warrior 6 (check out his video here).