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Getting Them (Us) to Vote

Judging from the election results, the number of New Jerseyans who were eager to end the 8-year reign of Republican Governor Chris Christie and his protege Kim Guadagno was stunning:  1.1 million voters – 56% of the popular vote - preferred the political neophyte and former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy.

Yet, despite the victory, voter turnout was disappointing, with only 35% of NJ’s 5.7 million voter’s making the effort to cast a ballot (compared to the previous low of 40% in the 2013 Gov. Chris Christie/ State Sen. Barbara Buono race - itself the lowest turnout for a gubernatorial election since 1924.)

My question is, can digital marketing address the issue of turnout? Based upon an experiment I conducted on Election Day, the answer seems to be Yes!

A bipartisan at heart, my interest lies in motivating people of all ages, but particularly college-age young adults, to become actively engaged voters. Getting them to register is only the first hurdle; they must also have easy access to unbiased, nonpartisan candidate information. Finally, they have to take the time to cast their ballot over the many competing demands on their time.

I wanted to test a last-minute experiment using Facebook Ads targeted to potential voters aged 18-24 and were attending two local universities; Montclair University and Drew University in Madison.

Setting up a simple FB Ad campaign using an Election 2017 banner and a “Don’t vote in the dark” pitch, I aimed a campaign at driving them to the website www.vote41.org .

This is a terrific website sponsored by the League of Women Voters that features ballot information tailored to the Visitor’s own precinct based on their registered voting address. In Upper Montclair - where Montclair State Students are likely based, the website displayed info on the two candidates for governor, two state Assembly races, as well as two statewide Ballot initiatives – pretty neat. And best of all, the website’s information for each candidate and issues comes directly from that candidate - the better to ensure fair, comparable information.

Launched with less than 24 hours left before the polls closed on November 7th, the campaign’s total “reach” was 530, with 450 Montclair U students and 80 to the much smaller Drew U student body. Out of that, 13 MU students engaged with the ad by liking it, sharing it or clicking on it, although none from Drew U did. That number might seem small, but keep a couple of things in mind before judging success/failure here.

1.     That’s a response rate of 2.4%, a fairly high rate for an ad with only a simple diagram and a relatively soft, non-partisan pitch.

2.     A more dynamic ad with a video or animated .gif could be expected to perform much better in the kinetic FB environment.

3.     The ad ran only from midnight, Nov 6 through 8pm on voting day, November 7th – its hard to draw conclusions from that short a time frame.

4.     The cost was negligible - $12.94, or about $1 per engagement. Compared to other avenues of educating and motivating voters, that’s very reasonable.

Clearly, a longer and more robust test would give a better indication of the potential for this type of ad, and I look forward to setting up new versions over the next 12-month election cycle.

Individual campaigns might be interested in pursuing variants of this strategy, based on issues that are known hot buttons for voters; and those efforts could expect an even higher turnout AND a lower cost per response, because FB scores ads and calculates their cost based on their appeal to visitors. Election 2018, here we come! 

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