Largest-Ever Study on Relational Organizing Shows 8.3% Increase in Turnout

Outvote is proud to announce the results of the largest relational organizing study to date, which was conducted alongside Columbia University’s Data Science Institute during the 2018 midterms. This robustly-designed investigation into the efficacy of relational organizing offered tremendous validation that relational organizing is the single most effective way for campaigns to mobilize voters. A text message from a friend increased likelihood to vote by 8.3 percentage points, far exceeding turnout effects from traditional organizing methods.

Outvote partnered with researchers from the Data Science Institute at Columbia University in advance of the 2018 midterms, intent upon measuring the turnout impact from friend-to-friend texting (a key tactic of relational organizing). In organizing pushes leading up to Election Day, Outvote worked with the Columbia team to design a randomized controlled study to produce an experimental group and a control group among users texting their friends to get out the vote. Voters in the experimental group received a text from a friend encouraging them to vote, while voters in the control group did not receive a text.

This study was designed to produce statistically reliable results while simultaneously minimizing impact on users’ experience: Outvote did not want to discourage volunteers from messaging their friends and getting out the vote in any way. Additional details on the final research design can be found in the full study.

After the experiment concluded, the Columbia research team spent months standardizing and analyzing data to determine the net impact of friend-to-friend text messages on voter turnout, breaking down the data by factors such as queue position and level of confidence in the voter file match. The results were significant: individuals messaged by friends were 8.3% more likely to cast a vote. By comparison, mass text message campaigns conducted by field organizers increase turnout by only 0.29%.

These results are a significant indicator of the power of relational organizing, particularly during our current quarantined campaigning environment. While many organizers fear that campaigns will suffer from the pause of door-to-door canvassing and in-person events during the pandemic, our study demonstrates that friend-to-friend organizing is actually more effective than traditional GOTV methods.

It’s more important than ever for campaigns to recognize the tremendous effectiveness of relational organizing, specifically friend-to-friend text messaging, to get out the vote and generate support for candidates and causes. Over 500 campaigns and advocacy organizations are using Outvote during the 2020 election cycle. We are extremely proud that these partners’ volunteers are engaging in a relational organizing tactic proven to get more voters to the polls (or to the mailbox!) in this critical election year.

To read Outvote and Columbia’s full study, “A Digital Field Experiment Reveals Large Effects of Friend-to-Friend Texting on Voter Turnout”, click here.

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