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EMAIL AND VOTER TURNOUT:

A FIELD EXPERIMENT AMONG COLLEGE FRESHMEN

Andra Gillespie and Brian Pitts


Department of Political Science, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

Abstract Methods Hypothesis


. This field experiment looks at the impact of Email should be an effective means for
email reminders with hyperlinks on 2006 I gathered voter registration information from 163 campaigns to mobilize their supporters who
midterm election turnout among a Oxford College of Emory University students. I chose request email contact, and this may have a
population of college freshmen. The Oxford students as my population because every spillover effect if they redistribute the
recipients of two emails voted at a higher student has an account in Learnlink, an email system message within their social networks.
rate than recipients of one or no emails, but that allows tracking the reading and forwarding of However, an unsolicited, impersonal email,
the relationship between turnout and messages and downloading of attachments no matter how timely or information-rich, is
opening an email is not statistically likely to be ignored.
significant.

Text of the first email

Background A screenshot of Learnlink’s


Results
History Capabilities Group Contacted Voted N
Email is favored by campaigns for its low
cost and far reach. According to Pew, 43
million Americans received political Control 0% (0) 11% (3) 28
information by email during the 2004 I stratified my sample three ways: students registered
1 Email 81% (25) 10% (3) 31
campaign. The closest analog to email out of state, students registered in Georgia but not at
Oxford College, and students registered at Oxford Treatment Effect = -1.29
used by campaigns is direct mail, which
Don Green and Alan Gerber show garners College. I randomly assigned one third of each group 95% Confidence Interval = -21.11 to 18.54
one vote for every 200 mailings. Email may to the treatment group, one third to a group that would Significance = 0.55
be a more personal, timely, and informative receive one email, and the final third to a group that
would receive two emails. Group Contacted Voted N
method of communication than regular Text of the second email
mail. Alternately, it may be treated by The first email was sent to all treatment groups a week
recipients as impersonal "spam." Previous before the election. The second email was sent the Control 0% (0) 11% (3) 28
experiments that tested email’s Friday before the election to the members of the 2 Emails 60% (12) 30% (6) 20
effectiveness in nonpartisan voter groups receiving two emails who were not registered at Treatment Effect = 32.14
mobilization efforts did not find an effect; Oxford College. The third email was sent the day 95% Confidence Interval = -7.90 to 72.19
however, their results were weakened by before the election to those in the groups receiving two
difficulties tracking who read the emails and emails registered at Oxford College. Significance = 0.058
who voted. I attempt to replicate previous Immediately following the election, I recorded the email
research while overcoming these obstacles. I have only collected voter histories for 79
histories to determine my contact rates. Once updated of the participants so far. Preliminary
voter rolls were available from Boards of Election, I analysis shows that opening one email
collected them to verify which students voted. reduced turnout but opening two raised it;
however, the relationship was not
Text of the third email statistically significant. Further research is
Acknowledgements needed to distinguish the effects of email
Emory University’s SIRE program and Political content, quantity, and timing.
Science department provided the funding
which made this presentation possible.