'Vote-Shaming': An Effective Leftist Strategy

While campaigns nationwide are hysterically ramping up their “get out the vote” (GOTV) efforts, Democrats are banking on a strategy that worked for them in 2012, hoping it will give them an edge and allow them to eke out some victories.  Democrats in North Carolina are mailing a variety of letters to voters designed to get them to the polls – a “voter-shaming” tactic, as described by Rush Limbaugh.  One type of letter is a personalized report card about the recipient’s voting history, which is then compared to the voting histories of others in his/her neighborhood or community.  If the recipient voted IN two out of the last five elections, it is contrasted with the neighborhood average voting record of, let’s say, three out of the last five elections. 

The other type of letter is a voter survey that, as Limbaugh explains:

... says 'public records will tell the community at-large whether you vote or not. As a service, our organization monitors turnout in your community, and it would be an understatement to say that we are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors.' It goes on to say the recipient has been selected to participate in a survey about the voting experience and asks the voter take notes on the type of machines used.

While this might be the first time you or Rush is hearing about the voter report card, it is not new for the Democrats, who have had it in their tool bag since 2012.  The voter report card was first tested by Democrat operatives in a state primary prior to the 2012 presidential election.  The results were so overwhelmingly positive that MoveOn.org sent its members a “secret weapon e-mail” where they claimed to have found the silver bullet to help win elections: a voter turnout method that was 3.7 times more effective than the best techniques being used by campaigns at the time.

What MoveOn.org discovered was that people – well, people who are inclined to vote progressive – were motivated by a need “to fit in” and wanted “to do the right thing by community standards.”  When they saw that they had voted in only two of the last five elections, but their neighbors had voted in three of the last five, that – more than anything else – pushed them out the door and to the polls.  What their community is doing is more important than the issues, the candidates, or the state of the country.

MoveOn’s “secret weapon e-mail” raised so much money that they sent out 14 million “voter-shaming” letters in the weeks leading up to the 2012 presidential election.  They turned what many expected to be a Romney victory into “a non-Citizens United, non-conservative landslide.”

This proven voter method is based on the social science of what motivates people to vote and research conducted by the Analyst Institute, a group of progressive organizers from pro-choice, labor, and the environment communities working on national politics in Washington, D.C. that grew out of MoveOn.org.  Although the analysts prefer to keep their tactics and research close to the vest, MoveOn e-mailed their members a 26-minute podcast explaining exactly what the secret weapon is and how it can be deployed to GOTV.  You can listen to the full podcast by clicking here

What you learn from the podcast is that Democrats are focused on getting progressives to the polls.  So they identify people who are likely to vote for progressives and call them – not to discuss the issues, but to discuss the act of voting, and making plans to vote (thinking about where to go, when to go, how to get there, and whether to go alone or with another).  Their research shows that when people can visualize the actual act of voting, they are more likely to follow through.  They have also discovered that, if the voting record is high in the community, peer pressure is a fantastic motivator.  The analysts at the Institute call these “implementation intentions,” which are “social psychology tricks” and “cues to the brain” that are more powerful in generating votes – getting progressive voters to engage in the democratic process – than discussing the actual issues.

This kind of tactic could never work on conservative, independent, Republican, or Libertarian voters.  Our DNA does not include the sheeple gene, and we are just not cut from the groupthink cloth.  It does, however, say a lot about the average progressive: they are more likely to show up at the polls because of what their neighbors are doing than because of issues that might impact their lives.  This revelation, now quantified, could very well be a weakness of the left that the right should exploit.

Rush suspects that this tactic could backfire on Democrats.  Maybe.  But Rush is coming from the perspective that this is something new.  Unless the left-wing mindset has changed in the last few years – and I haven’t seen any evidence to support that – and given that the secret weapon was successfully deployed just two years ago, Democrats have a decent shot of snatching a few victories from the jaws of defeat.  Let’s not forget that in the last weeks of the 2012 campaign, the wind was at Romney’s back, liberal pundits were fearful of an impending Republican victory, Obama was looking desperate, Chris Matthews’s tingle up the leg had become a trickle down it, and all of the fundraising e-mails suggested trouble (sounding very much like the e-mails they have been sending around the last few weeks).

In those e-mails, Democrats complained that Republicans were outspending and outraising them with their corporate-backed, Citizens United- and Koch Brothers-infused fundraising.  The Democrats, the 99%, working families, and the little guys just could not compete with the Republican hegemon.  Democrats needed more money and more volunteers to get to the polls and GOTV.  They asked for  $15 donations, then $5, then $3, then even $1.  Obama wasn’t generating the crowds he used to; Romney’s crowds were inspired and growing.   

But it was all a charade.  While Republicans were watching from ivory towers or pundit chairs or home TVs or Republican HQs; while Republicans were dithering about whether Romney was or wasn’t conservative enough; while Republican heads were swiveling from side to side, trying to keep up with  left-wing distractions like the war on women, income inequality, the 1% and 47%...the Democrats were getting out the vote in full force – picking up people in the final days of the campaign, who had shown no interest in voting but were spurred on by a desire to be just like the next guy.   

However much I hate to disagree with the master, Rush incorrectly concludes that “it's another sign of desperation on the Democrat Party side about the election and vote [sic] turnout.”  It most definitely is not a sign of desperation.  It is not a far-fetched Hail Mary pass, not a last-ditch attempt to get voters to the polls.  These letters are part of a calculated strategy based on scientifically tested and proven success at the polls.  One man’s voter-shaming letter is another man’s voter-motivator letter.   And it was precisely this tactic that was used in the last few weeks before the 2012 presidential election that brought heretofore unknown voters out of the woodwork to vote for Obama.

And today, just like in 2012, while the one left hand suggests that Republicans have the momentum and the Democrats are flailing, the other left hand is socking it to y'all, making call after call, knocking on door after door, and motivating millions of unmotivated voters with letters that make them want to be part of the crowd more than anything – even more than thinking.

No Republican reading this, no Republican working on any campaign, no one working for the RNC or any state or county Republican committee, no pundit from Karl Rove to the lowliest blogger, should make the same mistake that Rush has made, thinking this is an act of desperation by the Democrats .  You can call it voter-shaming, but they call it winning.

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