Voter Innovation Lab

Building a culture of voting with behavioral science

Our Response to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has introduced new and unexpected barriers to the voting landscape in the United States. Public health concerns are leading many states to postpone elections and forcing millions of voters to risk their safety to cast a ballot. Our democracy needs to be better prepared. We believe the best and most responsible response to the current crisis is the expansion of flexible voting options – like vote by mail – to keep voters across the country safely engaged in our electoral process. At ideas42, we are supporting the work of like-minded state officials by designing behavioral solutions that helps voters understand, trust, and equitably participate in these new ways of voting. We are also working with nonprofits and technology organizations to help eligible voters directly overcome any barriers and participate in the November election regardless of the voting systems in place in their state.

See our Safe Voter Playbook for tools and resources on expanding flexible voting options with voter behavior in mind.

If you are an election administrator or organization interested in working with us towards this mission, please reach out to ted@ideas42.org and omar@ideas42.org.

Creating a Culture of Voting with Behavioral Science

Chronically low voter turnout is a significant barrier to a functioning representative democracy. Despite being founded on the idea of government “for the people, by the people,” turnout in U.S. elections is much lower than in other developed countries. Around 60% of eligible voters cast their ballots in presidential elections, while typically only 40%  participate in midterm elections. While 2018’s midterm elections were a welcome departure from this trend, permanently maintaining an increase in voter turnout is vitally important.

Low voter turnout shapes policies at the federal, state, and local levels, impacting people’s day-to-day lives–even if it can be hard to visually connect an occasional vote to the policies and laws that affect us all. That’s because there is evidence that lawmakers craft policy that serves the preferences of habitual voters and economic elites, yet habitual voters are not representative of the broader population. They skew older, richer, and more educated than nonvoters and have different policy preferences than the population as a whole. To better ensure that our country’s policies represent the needs and wishes of more people, we have to start with voter turnout.

Many different tools will be needed to boost voter turnout and build a culture of voting in the U.S.—one of them is behavioral science. While behavioral science can’t undo centuries of marginalization and disenfranchisement, it can help shape our proactive efforts to build a voter-inclusive culture. Innovations like automatic voter registration, communications that leverage social norms, and prompting people to make a plan for election day have shown promising results in increasing turnout. We believe these strategies only scratch the surface when it comes to using behavioral science to help more people cast votes.

The Voter Innovation Lab

Our Voter Innovation Lab focuses on delivering the value of behavioral science through operational and policy solutions that impact civic engagement. This work takes many forms, including:

  • partnering with dedicated get-out-the-vote (GOTV) organizations like Democracy Works to develop and test innovative messaging strategies
  • collaborating with state and local elections officials to help engage voters
  • accelerating policy reform by leveraging our portfolio of applied work to generate new sources of evidence.
  • creating new channels to reach traditionally underrepresented communities where they are, like our innovative work with VotER to increase voter registration among patients in hospital waiting rooms

ideas42 has been applying a behavioral lens to voter turnout for a few years. In 2018, we designed direct mail, e-mail, and text message campaigns driven by behavioral insights and reached more than 4 million people who were likely occasional voters and nonvoters to help them make it to the polls. In 2020 we are building on these successes, and expanding our reach across the voting ecosystem.

As part of our broader Civic Engagement portfolio, the Voter Innovation Lab’s primary goal is to expand the American electorate in the long-term, rather than just increase turnout for any specific election. As such, our work is nonpartisan. Over the next several years, we will continue to leverage behavioral science to generate new behaviorally informed strategies to help more people take action at the ballot box and scale solutions proven to make our democracy more representative of all Americans. 

Interested in learning how to apply behavioral science to help more people vote? Reach out to us at nvil@ideas42.org or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.

Inoculating Democracy from COVID-19
Blog

“As states and election administrators develop and implement new voting systems, at ideas42 we are supporting their work by creating designs that keep voters at the center the process.”
“Working with non-profits and state governments, we designed and tested a series of voter outreach materials leading up to the midterms, ultimately reaching over 4 million potential voters. These efforts generated meaningful insights about what works to motivate voters across contexts, providing an exciting foundation for our continued work in 2020 and beyond.”

Building a Culture of Voting Through Choice Architecture
The Behavioral Scientist

“Given the level of turnout in the U.S., encouraging more people to vote is unequivocally a good thing. As one illustration shows, if every person who didn’t vote in the 2016 election (but could have) voted for a candidate named ‘Nobody,’ Nobody would have crushed both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Public figures as well as the institutions we interact with regularly—like our employers, schools, local organizations, and even social media platforms—absolutely should promote and protect a culture of voting.”

Helping People Vote Isn’t a ‘Power Grab.’ It’s Democracy.
Blog

“In recent years, nonpartisan election administrators around the country have taken impressive steps for increased voter turnout, including building robust “vote at home” programs; enacting same-day, online, and automated voter registration; and doing more proactive outreach to low-participation populations. There is more evidence to gather about what works best, but these initial reforms have made good strides in reducing the hassles associated with participating in elections. Further reforms, especially at the federal level, could standardize these steps across the country and create an even larger increase in turnout.”

Graduating Students into Voters
Publication

Sparking Civic Action
Overview of our civic engagement work


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