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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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A Nudge reader sends along word that the Naval Academy is updating its honor system, which must be voted on by the Midshipmen. To make sure the new code passes, the Academy’s Honor Congress is using the default yes vote. The vote is being held for each class at specific times. In an email to Midshipmen, the Honor Congress informs them, “If you do not show up to the wardroom vote or email me, your vote will be counted as a “YES” in favor of the revisions by default.”

Members of the Los Angeles City Council would be so proud.

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As final chapter of the book points out, nudges really are everywhere. Smart nudges on the other hand…

It’s called the automatic “yes” vote, and the Los Angeles Times reports that half of the City’s council members have used the automatic yes votes in order to be two places at once, usually meeting privately with others during the vote.

Many council votes are routine, and members could argue that time spent with lobbyists, mayoral aides or even reporters is more valuable than responding to repeated roll calls. But few make that case. A spotty voting record can easily become a political liability.

So instead of being recorded as absent, the council members have a technological fix: The chamber’s voting software is set to automatically register each of the 15 lawmakers as a “yes” unless members deliberately press a button to vote “no.”

The “yes” votes then flash on video screens throughout the chamber — and are placed in the clerk’s official record — even when members have left to grab a snack in the hall or hold a meeting.

Council members say they have a radio nearby that plays an audio feed so that they can change their vote if necessary. The Nudge blog can’t help but wonder if some private managers, who don’t have responsibilities to the general public, would ever adopt this kind of rule on the grounds of efficiency? And if the automatic “yes” vote says something more interesting about the number of uncontroversial, routine decisions that local politicians make?

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A study by four Ivy League economists—Dean Karlan of Yale, Sendhil Mullainathan and Margaret McConnell of Harvard, and Jonathan Zinman of Dartmouth—has shown that gentle text-based nagging can induce people to save more. As part of a study, they worked with banks in the emerging markets of Bolivia, Peru, and the Philippines. When people opened accounts and encouraged to commit to saving certain amounts, the banks randomly assigned some customers to receive reminders via text. Some notes reminded customers that they had focused on a particular goal, others reminded savers that there were incentives for saving (like higher interest rates), and some did both. The conclusion: “Individuals who received monthly reminders saved 6 percent more than individuals who did not. They were also 3 percent more likely to reach their savings goals by the end of the savings program.” The most effective form of messaging was one that reminded people both that they needed to save in order to reach a personal goal and that there were incentives for doing so. Such nudges boosted savings by nearly 16 percent.

This paragraph comes from a Slate piece with the headline, “The Jewish Mother in Your Cell Phone.” The real question should be, what if, instead of your cell phone, your actual mother, or your father for that matter, reminded you to save money once a month? Which nagging would beef up your bank account better? As research into boosting savings progresses, more of these nudges will have to be put head-to-head.

This sort of process has occurred over the last decade in political research on one seminal question: How do you get people to vote? For instance, in-person contacts increase voting more than direct mailings, which work better than phone calls. Publicizing one’s voting history (or that of their neighbors) boosts voting more than a generic reminder to fulfill your civic duty.

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1) Richard Thaler talked with NPR’s Morning Edition about whether government messages about the economy affect consumer behavior? Does economic cheerleading make a difference? (The clip runs about 4 minutes.)

A listener then posts this terrific haiku that sums up Thaler’s message:

In debt? Thrift will help.

Got money? Spend it freely.

Good for all of US.

(Please note that when read aloud, US is one syllable. On paper of course, the implied U.S. is also there.)

2) Thaler takes part in an interesting To the Point roundtable on the place of Nudge and behavioral economics in the Obama campaign and administration. One example is advice from behavioralists to campaign field directors in the final weeks of the campaign was to tweak the voter message to say, “A record turnout is expected.” The most effective motivator for getting people to vote is the expectation that others will vote too. Also taking part to discuss criticisms from the left and right were writers from Time, the New Republic, and Reason magazine. (The conversation lasts about 35 minutes. It starts at about 7 minutes and 45 seconds.)

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We have evidence that there are strange polling effects when voters cast ballots in schools and churches. What about gymnasiums, art museums, pizza parlors, and laundromats? See here for a slide show of odd polling locations.

Hat tip: Jeff Zemla


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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Back in May, we blogged about some strange voting findings, and referenced a study showing that the polling place exerts a strange influence on the voting decision.

People who vote in schools are more likely to support propositions for more education funding. (Jonah Berger, Marc Meredith, and S. Christian Wheeler) used 2000 data from an Arizona referendum proposing to raising the state sales tax from 5.0 percent to 5.6 percent with the money going to education. By a count of 55 percent to 53.09 percent, voters in schools were more likely to support this initiative than those in other polling places like churches or community centers.

The three authors have just published a follow-up in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Continue reading the post here.


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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