Friend-to-Friend Outreach in Politics: What Does the Research Say?

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New contributor! Sangeeth Peruri is the CEO and founder of VoterCircle, a platform that helps campaigns leverage friend-to-friend connections for voter outreach. VoterCircle also appeared in my recent C&E piece on the broader concept of peer-to-peer communications.

Having spent the past year working with hundreds of campaigns, we’re often asked about the efficacy of friend-to-friend outreach.

Prior to VoterCircle, it was extremely time intensive and/or costly to conduct this type of research. As a result, the literature on the subject is limited. I found two papers in the 3rd edition of Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout by Donald Green and Alan Gerber of relevance. Both papers were randomized control trials (RCTs), the gold standard in political research. (If you find others, please send them our way!)

Holly Teresi and Melissa Michelson authored a paper titled “Wired to Mobilize: The effect of social networking messages on voter turnout” for the Social Science Journal. In the study, one of the researchers “friended” a group of university students on facebook. Half of the group was exposed to political posts about the upcoming elections while the other half received apolitical posts. The group seeing political posts from the researcher saw an 8.22 point turnout bump vs. the control group. For voters under the age of 30, the turnout bump was 10.76 points.

Research: a 10-point voter turnout bump from friend-to-friend Facebook outreach? #GOTV Click To Tweet

Tiffany Davenport’s friend-to-friend email study, “Unsubscribe: The Effects of Peer-to- Peer Email on Voter Turnout; Results from a Field Experiment in the June 6, 2006, California Primary Election,” shows even stronger results. This study compared the effects of both impersonal campaign emails and personal friend-to-friend emails on voter turnout. While the effect of a campaign email was negligible (actually a slight negative), recipients of friend-to-friend emails exhibited a 12-15 point turnout bump vs the control group.

Research: a 12-15-point voter turnout bump from friend-to-friend email? #GOTV Click To Tweet

Let me say that again, in case you missed it. A turnout bump of 12-15 points for voters receiving friend-to-friend emails!

The turnout improvements in the above studies resemble our own internal research at VoterCircle which has shown 5-10 point turnout bumps for general elections and 10-20 points for off-cycle and/or down-ballot races. However, it’s important to note that the impact of friend-to-friend outreach is a new area that requires more study.

This post first appeared on the Voter Circle blog.

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Sangeeth Peruri
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