Behavioral science on the campaign trail

The modern-day field experiment movement in political science, now almost ten years old, gets more coverage in the NYT Magazine:

Shortly before Pennsylvania’s April 2008 presidential primary, (Todd) Rogers scripted a phone call that went out to 19,411 Democratic households in the state. The disembodied call-center voice said it had three questions. Around what time do you expect you will head to the polls on Tuesday? Where do you expect you will be coming from when you head to the polls on Tuesday? What do you think you will be doing before you head out to the polls?

Rogers did not care what voters’ answers were to the questions, only whether they had any. He was testing a psychological concept known as “implementation intentions,” which suggests that people are more likely to perform an action if they have already visualized doing it…Before a room of professors and graduate students, Rogers explained that asking people about their voting plans increased turnout by 4 percentage points. A closer look, however, showed the effects were unevenly distributed. The self-predictive phone calls had little impact on multiple-voter households. But for those living alone, the effect was tremendous: turnout jumped by nearly 10 percentage points. The reason, Rogers surmised, was that making plans is a collaborative activity; spouses and roommates already talk through issues like child care as a condition of voting. For those who live alone, rehearsing their Election Day routine with a stranger helped them make a plan.

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