Date Thesis Awarded

4-2014

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

Government

Advisor

Jaime Settle

Committee Member

Ronald Rapoport

Committee Member

Julie Agnew

Abstract

Within the past two decades, political scientists have utilized direct mail field experiments to assess the impact of various mail techniques on voter turnout. The most effective field experiments have used social pressure (publicizing or otherwise drawing attention to individuals’ voting histories) to increase turnout, but have not been widely used by political campaigns because of the potential for voter backlash. More traditional direct mail frequently employs issue-based negative appeals, but has not been shown to increase turnout. In this paper, I conduct a small field experiment to measure the effect of political direct mail that combines social pressure content with issue-based language, with the theory that linking policy outcomes directly with an individual’s turnout history will make issues more salient and increase turnout. I also conduct a lab experiment to assess the mechanism(s) behind the mailer by showing individuals one of three treatment letters and surveying them about their emotional states after reading the letter, their likelihood of voting, and their intent to support the sender of the mailer. In the field experiment, I find that the treatment mailer caused a statistically significant decrease in voter turnout. I assess the effect of a second social pressure mailer that contaminated my treatment and also decreased turnout. Results from the lab experiment are consistent with the finding from the field experiment: the treatment mailer appeared to cause strong emotional reactions but did little to increase support of the candidate compared to the control group.

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