Is there evidence that Postcards to Voters works?
July 3, 2018 11:02 PM   Subscribe

I've looked at the Postcards to Voters website, and its results section only seems to show election results for races they've targeted - and of course correlation isn't causation. How do we know this is a useful way to spend our energy?

I'd like to commemorate this 4th of July in a way that feels more "right" to me than fireworks and parades feel right now, so (after I go see Won't You Be My Neighbor?) I thought I'd finally get started with Postcards to Voters. I've seen it recommended many times here on Metafilter and elsewhere - but what kind of evidence, or even anecdotes, do we have to suggest it's making a difference? Failing that, if you're participating in it, what makes you feel it's a good use of your time?

Bonus question: since the US post office won't be open tomorrow (the 4th) and I don't have the equipment to print up my own postcards, I was wondering if I could just go buy local touristy postcards for this? Or will I need to hold off until I can get other postcards? Obviously I should have thought this through earlier but here we are, so thank you for any help you can provide!
posted by DingoMutt to Law & Government (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I do it on occasion. I think the jury is still out on how effective these campaigns are. I think there is some anecdata that shows that people are more responsive to handwritten materials then preprinted ones. But keep in mind, all we’re trying to do is get actual registered Democrats to the polls. We’re not trying to change any minds. The former is possible and the latter is not.

If you’re using traditional postcards, choose ones that are as unobjectionable as possible and that maybe have some blank space for messages or hand-drawn pictures. I’ve seen ones where people make a voting or political pun out of whatever is on the front. Like if it has a bird on it, they might say “Let’s flock to the polls on August 9th” or whatever. I mean, if you have any cardstock, I’d recommend just cutting it down to postcard size and using that. Then you can decorate the blank side with key phrases like “Be a Voter!” and the election date.

My only concern for you is that they ask you to do one sample so they can approve you for writing the rest. They want to make sure your hand writing is legible and you have the right information on the card. I’m worried that maybe they’re taking tomorrow off and won’t be able to approve you right away? But I’m off of Facebook right now so I don’t know their schedule like I normally might.

Happy 4th!!
posted by greermahoney at 11:22 PM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

From working on similar campaigns, the efficacy rate is dreadfully low, but they're incredibly cheap as outreach, so you work on a premise of volume. If I recall correctly, and I caution that it's been years since I had these numbers at my fingertips, you're looking at about a 3-5% action rate with postcards we had sent out (filled by volunteers) compared to like 2% for direct mail, and about 7-15% for phone calls and emails. Door knocks had about a 30% action rate, but then you're only counting the doors people actually answer.
posted by klangklangston at 2:04 AM on July 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Failing that, if you're participating in it, what makes you feel it's a good use of your time?

I am happy to be doing something proactive rather than just sending money and drowning in anxiety. I'm in a blue state and an introvert, and I've found this to be therapeutic, positive, and hopeful.
posted by Threeve at 7:54 AM on July 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Postcards to Voters posted someone's blog post about this to their Facebook group a while back. I would say that the evidence is pretty thin, mostly because this is a recent, grassroots effort that hasn't been studied. But I would say that I think that the biggest effect may be on the writers, not on the postcard recipients. I don't know if recipients are more likely to vote in special elections, but I bet that people who have spent a couple of hours writing postcards for someone else's special elections are more likely to vote when there's a special election in their district. I think it's creating a group of engaged, connected citizens, many of whom might not have been directly involved in politics before. My sense is that people who write postcards to voters are more likely then to contact their elected representatives, for instance. And I think it's really important for Democrats and progressives to create a sense of active, not just passive citizenship: citizenship is something you do, not just something that you have. I think that writing postcards can be a gateway to more active engagement with citizenship, so I support it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:23 AM on July 4, 2018 [10 favorites]

They don't care what postcards you use so long as they are inoffensive. My demo card when I signed up was a postcard of a painting of Central Park.

I like tourist postcards and the generic cute postcards that you can get from Michael's that have generic affirmations on them (like an astronaut saying "You're out of this world!" but watch out because some of the sets are booze-themed and that's not appropriate.) The goal is that the person is interested enough to actually examine the back and maybe take action...and failing that, I'd like to at least send an interesting picture and a positive message that cheers them up.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:51 AM on July 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yup, any non-offensive, non-controversial postcard is fine. I bought a set of 100 Women in Science postcards and mostly use those. The idea is to seem personal, like it's coming from an actual person, so I actually think that touristy postcards from your location would be great.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:02 AM on July 4, 2018

We did a massive research project on GOTV and voter education (which are quite different things) a couple years ago at work. Ultimately, there is very little evidence that GOTV campaigns (other than those which physically move people to their polling places, as happens with some "ride to the polls" GOTV campaigns) have a significant impact on the number of people casting ballots.

Voter education (literal voter education, as in, this is how you find your polling place, this is how you get there, this is how you fill in ballot &c) is actually pretty effective in creating fist-time voters. Bu like all things, people have to create their own habits of doing it regularly.

However, postcard campaigns to registered voters, targeted through prior voting patterns (e.g., routinely votes in the general but not the primary; did not vote in the last primary but voted in the previous two) have not really been studied. Nor has the shift in how people use phones been studied per its impact on GOTV campaigns (that is, the shift to texting, the ubiquity of local people having nonocal area codes & call-screening behaviors).

In short, it's super complicated as well as being a little uncharted.

I study judicial elections and voter behavior as part of my job and I participate in Postcards to Voters. My reasons are: 1) postcard-writing get-togethers are a great way to engage with your neighbors and other people with similar political concerns. There's evidence that the more people feel that their political needs and concerns are shared, the more likely they are to stay involved in the process (voting, calling their MOCs, going to school board meetings); 2) a reminder of special elections and primary voting dates is going to benefit some people. Elections are part of my job and I forget about special election dates; 3) I do voter protection on election day, so I can't do ride to the polling place volunteering (also, door to door canvassing to set up ride to the polls where I live usually takes place 40-120 miles outside the city and I can't get there); 4) it's easy and makes me feel better, despite what I know about voter behavior. Humans are irrational.
posted by crush at 9:24 AM on July 4, 2018 [11 favorites]

Also, I buy the Be a Voter! packs P2V sells or I print postcards with Vote! "creative commons use freely licensed" graphics I get from the internet. I like being able to write the address & put the stamp on the front of the card because my handwriting get too cramped if I have to fit both the address & the required text on one side of a card.
posted by crush at 9:27 AM on July 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I printed up a massive stack of Rosie the Riveter cards through Vista Print. (Vista Print is addicting.) I used the free creative commons image -- lots of similar online. They turned out really nice!

If you MeMail me your address, I'll send you a stack because I will never get through them all. (Happy to send to other participants, too!)
posted by mochapickle at 10:00 AM on July 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone - I really appreciate all of the input. It sounds like it certainly can't hurt, it's doing SOMETHING, and at least there's the possibility that it could help as one part of a broader effort. It's good to hear from a variety of people who find it a valuable activity for them (and I appreciate the tips on the post cards, too! After a fruitless post card hunt around the few places that we could find that were open today, I came home and remembered we had an unused Oregon Coast postcard we'd bought and never sent from our last trip out to the coast. Hope that suits!)

Mochapickle, I will definitely take you up on your offer and will memail you now - thank you!
posted by DingoMutt at 6:37 PM on July 4, 2018

I’ve written 855 Postcards To Voters. It engages me in elections outside my local area. It inspires me to follow candidates I would never have heard of. After a really bad news day, it makes me feel better. Looks like others have covered the issue of stats on effectiveness- but I wanted to mention another piece of anecdata about how it can help with feelings of despair or hopelessness.
posted by hilaryjade at 7:02 PM on July 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Failing that, if you're participating in it, what makes you feel it's a good use of your time?

I did a bunch of phonebanking for Hillary in 2016, and I'd done some before, and in my experience, people like to be reminded to vote and like that volunteers are participating, but they HATE PHONE CALLS FROM STRANGERS. (And because people hate phone calls from strangers and caller ID is practically everywhere now, most people won't even answer when you try to call.)

Postcards are MUCH less of an annoyance and may even be a pleasure (lots of people like to get hand-written mail), and can be stuck on the fridge to remind someone to get to the polls. Plus you can say things like "please make a plan to get to your voting place" which may make a difference for some people.

And seconding hilaryjade above - it does foster positive connections with people in other parts of the country, and gets me interested in candidates I might not know about otherwise.

Finally, they often work on smaller races, which can make a huge difference.

I'm glad you're going to give it a try - personally, I think it's really worthwhile.
posted by kristi at 2:13 PM on July 7, 2018

I can't really comment on the quality of this experiment, but it's something. They found that being sent a handwritten postcard increased by about 20% the chances that an unregistered voter who was sent a voter registration form would complete the form.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:58 PM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

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