Mon, December 03 2012

6 fascinating lessons for us from the campaign trail

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I recently read a very interesting article from The New York Times about how social science and behavioral economics was used to get out the vote. 

The article, “Academic Dream Team Helped Obama’s Effort,” details how experts like Robert Cialdini (whom I covered just this past week), formed a consortium that provided research-based ideas on motivating people to take certain actions (especially voting). Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or of any party, the advice the academics provided is very useful to all of us involved in the work of social change.  We’re all in the business of compelling people to do things. So I wanted to pass on the most interesting tips.

1. People favor candidates - and organizations! - that exhibit a combination of competence and warmth.  You want to seem smart but also likable.

2. When countering rumors (or myths), it’s a bad idea to repeat them.  People may register a denial in the short term, but they only tend to remember the rumor or myth in the long term.  Don’t deny or counter something - simply assert your competing notion.

3. Use people’s sense of identity to influence behavior.  In the election, volunteer canvassers said, “Mr. Jones, we know you’ve voted in the past,” to prompt future voting.  We can do the same with volunteers or donors: “Mr. Jones, we know you’ve supported us in the past.”  People want to stick to their past behaviors, so this can work well.

4. Informal commitments help.  Getting people to sign a card promising to vote increases likelihood to vote, for example.  Pledging is also useful in fundraising!

5. Tell people to make a plan. People are more likely to follow through on a promise if they have a plan, however simple.  Ask people to specify when they’ll help you.

6. Use social norms.  When people were told others in their neighborhood planned to vote, it influenced them.  Never forget the power of peer pressure - call out your supporters to inspire others to jump on board.

For more fascinating tips on how this worked during the campaign, check out the article here.

  • Comment: (3)   


The advice about not countering rumors defies common sense. It feels like you have to address those.

The value of research is that our assumptions and beliefs can be proven true and false, and we can make better choices. That’s one of the reasons why we always look at what research has been done about a charity’s work.

Right now, my giving circle is researching a charity that gives cash handouts to extremely poor families. My common sense tells me that this will lead to a culture of dependence, but that’s not what the research is showing.

Thanks for sharing this article!

Posted by Sharon Lipinski  on  12/03  at  10:44 AM

You address rumors by asserting what is true, not by fighting the details of the rumor.  There is so much data supporting this.  A couple of years back, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to combat myths about the flu vaccine by listing commonly held views and labeling them either “true” or “false.” Examples of myths were, “The side effects are worse than the flu” and “Only older people need flu vaccine.”  University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz found that after reading the flier, the target audience incorrectly recalled 28 percent of the false statements as true. And three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

If you are trying to overcome a falsehood, you’re doing yourself no favors by repeating it—even if only to debunk it.  Repeating myths perpetuates them.

Don’t convey information that’s not key to your single message - or a “myth”.  Keep focused on the single right message and people will be more likely to catch it - and recall it.

Posted by Katya Andresen  on  12/03  at  03:17 PM

Thanks so much for this post, Katya and for linking to the NYT article. Fascinating from a political campaign perspective, too.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  02:05 PM

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