The Portland Community College sought to pass a measure to provide continued dedicated funding for classroom technology and job training programs. Stones’ Phones, Wheelhouse NW, Prof. Chris Mann, and the PCC Forward campaign teamed up for an innovative SMS GOTV effort and field experiment. In an all-mail ballot environment, we sought to increase turnout through a series of four SMS contacts to approximately 43,000 likely voters and new registrants.
We first introduced the bond measure to voters by linking to a short explanatory video. For the next contact, we split the universe, encouraging one half to make sure their entire household voted, and directing the other half to a digital invite that would register on their smartphone calendar. Both groups received a reminder, and then the final text linked to an online tool to find the closest ballot dropbox.
Examples of SMS treatments
In a low-turnout election with little else on the ballot, we had educate voters on the bond renewal and its objectives, reassure that their taxes would not increase with its passage, and drive them to return their ballots. We decided to use manual texting to deliver our message directly to their pockets.
Overall, the text messages netted the campaign 528 votes that would not have otherwise been cast, increasing turnout over a control group by 1.2 percentage points. The Adopt-a-Voter treatment increased turnout by 1.6 percentage points at $30 per net vote, and the Calendar treatment increased turnout by 0.9 percentage point at $51 per net vote.
We drove thousands of views to the digital spot, got 800 people to download a calendar invite to their phone to remind them to vote, and had 2,000 people use the dropbox locator tool to help them vote.
And even in the more fiscally conservative Washington County, a worry for the campaign, we had our largest turnout effect: a 2% boost.
This innovative manual texting campaign and experiment won an Expy award from the Analyst Insititute for establishing best practices for SMS.
Read the study in its entirety here: Portland Text Message Ballot Chase Evaluation Memo.pdf