Voting is the one time when we are all equal. Whether young or old, rich or poor, it is the one time we all have the same say. Today is National Voter Registration Day, and across the country, organizers are registering voters and reminding Americans to sign up before Election Day.
NVRD encouraged participants and organizations to run social media campaigns, such as on Facebook and Twitter. A new study shows this kind of social media engagement may even increase turnout.
Facebook may have created 340,000 extra votes in the 2010 election, according to the study conducted by scientists from the University of California, San Diego and Facebook’s data-science team, released online by the journal Nature.
On November 2, 2010, 98 percent of Facebook’s 61 million users received a “Today is Election Day” message with links to local polling sites, an “I Voted” button, and up to six profile pictures of friend who reported voting. About 1 percent of users received the same message without photos of their friends who voted, and another 1 percent did not see any message at all.
The results were clear: Voters who saw the “social message,” which included images of Facebook friends, were more likely to vote than the group that only received the informational message or no message at all. Like other studies on peer influence, participants were especially likely to vote if they saw images of their close friends. However, surprisingly, approximately 280,000 users were indirectly influenced to vote by friends of friends.
With the new wave of restrictive voter laws across the country that could make it harder for eligible Americans to vote, social media platforms may just be the a new way to modernize the voting system. These sites offer a space for nonpartisan support to encourage voters to register and get out to the polls on election days.
Along with movements like National Voter Registration Day, campaigns like Rock the Vote also use social media to target specific audiences, like young voters, and encourage them to become more active in the electoral process. For example, Rock the Vote’s Facebook page, which has tens of thousands of likes, helps users register to vote online. The group also advises organizations trying to mobilize young voters to “embrace social media” because “the point is to interact.”
This interaction is essential to a democratic process. Even with the additional votes from Facebook’s online campaign, only 41 percent of eligible Americans voted in the 2010 election, according to U.S. Census data.
Through education and legal work, the Brennan Center fights to ensure that more eligible voters are given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. It is an important part of this effort to embrace new avenues of communication, like social media, that can encourage voters to register and participate in this process. With just 42 days until Election Day, and many registration deadlines only a few weeks away, time is running out to get registered. The time to get registered and encourage your friends and the friends of your friends to vote is now.