Why are we sending "thank you for voting" letters to Georgia and Virginia?

With 2020 and The Big Send in the recent past, and data showing that handwritten letters are an effective tactic for encouraging voter turnout in a given election, we want to know if we can keep the momentum going and foster lasting voter engagement.

Why "thank you for voting" letters?
This is a Vote Forward Labs experiment, so we are running it to discover new tactics and to refine and improve our existing programs. Voting is a behavior that can become a habit, yet millions of registered U.S. voters do not consistently turn out to vote, even if they have voted in the past. To date, Vote Forward’s campaigns have sought, and worked, to mobilize voters for a particular election, but we have never tried to mobilize voters across elections, that is, to encourage them not only to vote once, but to become a consistent voter.

Gratitude interventions have proven effective to stimulate a variety of prosocial behaviors, including voting. As gratitude involves recognizing a person’s past action in order to encourage future actions, this intervention is a natural choice for a campaign that seeks to turn a voter’s single act of voting into a pattern of habitual voter participation. But to our knowledge, this intervention has not been tested with handwritten communications. Your efforts to send “thank you for voting” letters as part of this experimental campaign, will work toward our goal of encouraging consistent voting while also contributing new knowledge to the field. Two studies of gratitude interventions available on the Analyst Institute repository -- by Costas Panagopolis and Andrew Claster -- yielded encouraging results. These studies are member-only, but it is free to join the Analyst Institute if you work in the progressive, civic engagement, and/or social justice community.

Why now?
We’re running this Vote Forward Labs experiment now because we’ve just experienced the highest-turnout presidential election in over a century. For first-time and infrequent voters who participated in the 2020 general election, we are in a critical period for behavior reinforcement, so by sending letters now, we hope to help these voters make voting a habit that they will repeat in lower profile elections in 2021 and 2022.

In this critical period, a handwritten “thank you for voting” letter will remind voters of their choice to vote, honor them with gratitude, and connect their past action with future opportunities to act: vote. We will assess whether these letters help maintain voters’ electoral participation over time: in the medium term (2021), and in the longer term (2022 midterm elections).

Why Georgia and Virginia?
Georgia is unique in that its voters have experienced not one, but two recent, high-profile elections. Some municipalities will hold elections in 2021, and in 2022 Georgia voters will choose their next governor, secretary of state, and U.S. Senator. In addition, Georgia’s demographics, history of voter suppression, and recent blue shift create good context to pursue our social mission of encouraging underrepresented voters’ participation while also doing some political work to support Democratic voter turnout. 

Virginia has a statewide general election in the fall of 2021, as well as the midterms in 2022. This election schedule will allow us to assess how the impact of our intervention may persist over time by measuring effects on turnout at two points in time.

Both Georgia and Virginia have large sets of voters that meet our targeting criteria for this experiment: first-time and infrequent voters. Also, we did not write letters to voters in Virginia during The Big Send in 2020, whereas Georgia voters were sent letters ahead of both the 2020 general election and U.S. Senate runoffs. Given this, Georgia will offer us insight into the value of sustained voter contact, and Virginia, insight into the value of fresh contact.