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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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Tim Harford reports on a  military program from Afghanistan modeled on the Comprehensive Rural Health Project.

The more psychologically detailed insights of behavioural economics may also be promising. Mackay and Tatham cite Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme as an example of the “choice architecture” described by policy guru Cass Sunstein and the behavioural economist Richard Thaler. The NSP handed out grants to villages, provided the village leaders were elected by secret ballot, held communal meetings, and posted accounts in a public place: a nudge towards better governance.

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Seven poor ballot designs – and seven solutions – in this interactive graphic based on work by AIGA, the professional association for designers. (See our previous post on election ballots here.)

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DANIEL KAHNEMAN:You call and ask people ahead of time, “Will you vote?”. That’s all. “Do you intend to vote?”. That increases voting participation substantially, and you can measure it. It’s a completely trivial manipulation, but saying ‘Yes’ to a stranger, “I will vote” …

NATHAN MYHRVOLD: But to Elon’s point, suppose you had the choice of calling up and saying, “Are you going to vote?”, so you prime them to vote, versus exhorting them to vote.

KAHNEMAN: The prime could very well work better than the exhortation because exhortation is going to induce resistance, whereas the prime‚ the mild embarrassment causes you to make what feels like a commitment, and the commitment, if it’s sufficiently precise, is going to have an effect on behavior.

RICHARD THALER: If you ask them when they’re going to vote, and how they’re going to get there, that increases voting.

KAHNEMAN: And where.

From the transcript of a conversation featuring Daniel Kahneman on “Two Big Things Happening in Psychology Today.”

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This election season you may have noticed the sartorial squabble over polling precinct dress codes that started with an Obama t-shirt in Pennsylvania. While the dispute led to a court fight, the campaigns, to be safe, are dissuading voters from wearing clothing that features Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin references. We don’t want to weigh in on the subtleties of election law and what constitutes electioneering. Instead, we want to raise a simpler question: How many people are even going to notice a McCain or Obama t-shirt?

There’s a wonderful study with direct bearing on this current controversy: The “Barry Manilow” experiment (which we mention in Nudge). One version of the experiment worked as follows. When a student arrived to participate, she was asked to put on a t-shirt with a picture of Barry Manilow prominently displayed on the front, and sent to a room where another group of students were busy filling out questionnaires (Barry Manilow was thought to be the least hip, most embarrassing performer a college student could plaster on a shirt – hey, it was the 1990s.) After a minute, the student with the Barry Manilow t-shirt was asked to leave the room with the experiment supervisor. The other students were asked to identify who was on the shirt. How many could? Barely one-fifth. And to show this wasn’t just a Barry Manilow phenomenon, similar results were found with shirts featuring Martin Luther King, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bob Marley.

Skeptics may claim that the experiment featured a picture of Barry Manilow, while most political t-shirts feature candidate names. And being asked to recall a picture and turn it into a name (might be) more difficult than simply noticing the name itself. But it’s also worth questioning how many people will have a chance to see the shirts on other people. After all, lines are the norm at polling locations, which means you spend much more time staring at the backs of shirts, not the fronts of them. What the Barry Manilow experiment cautions is that even when someone turns around, wearing something she thinks is so obvious everyone will see it, lots of people won’t even notice.

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This one is perhaps less strange than the five posted earlier today. People who register to vote later are more likely to vote. James Gimpel, Daron Shaw, and Joshua Dyck looked at 2000 data from six states to uncover the following result:

People who registered to vote the week of the registration deadline were 16 percent more likely to vote than those who registered one year from the deadline.

This finding makes sense on the logic that late registers’ interest in the campaign leads them to sign-up to vote. Early registers, on the other hand, may be more committed to voting in general, but are less inspired to vote in any single particular election.

Of the late registrants, young adults were 15 percent less likely to vote than older adults, and women were more likely than men to turn out.

A surprising result from the study – again related to the asymmetrical effects of partisanship – is that late registering Republicans voted at about twice the rate of late registering Democrats.

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In celebration of primary day in Kentucky and Oregon, the Nudge blog offers five strange findings about voting that are not explained by the usual – individually rational – factors driving voter turnout and vote choice, which are income, education, party identification, ideological leaning.

Continue reading the post here.

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A well-designed ballot is an under-appreciated part of a successful democratic process. Anyone who remembers the 2000 butterfly ballot from Palm Beach knows that confusing ballots mean confused voters — which led to elderly Jewish Floridians voting for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore. Confusing ballots have continued to disrupt recent elections. Two months ago on Super Tuesday, a poorly designed California ballot bewildered 50,000 non-partisan voters trying to vote in the Democratic primary. In order to have their votes counted, non-partisan voters – voters who have not declared themselves as a member of a party – needed to fill out a bubble confirming that they were voting in the Democratic primary, followed by a second bubble for their actual candidate choice. In Los Angeles County, 776,000 voters faced what has become known as “double bubble trouble.” For a picture of the ballot, click here.

Continue reading this post here.

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