February 19, 2020
Relational Voter Turnout: Tag, You’re It?

Objective

This study explores whether being tagged with an encouragement to vote in a status on Facebook by a friend made people more likely to vote in the 2018 general election, and also whether personality factors of the tagger or aspects of the relationship between the tagger and the tagged friend affect the tagged person’s 2018 general election voting.

Background: Relational organizing, or using personal relationships to talk to folks about voting, is a popular tactic. As people spend more of their time online, this study attempted to replicate the results of an earlier study by our collaborator Katherine Haenschen (2016) by asking people to tag their friends in Facebook statuses about voting.

Specifics

SDAN partnered with Dr. Katherine Haenschen (Assistant Professor of Communication at Virginia Tech) to design this study, with support from the Analyst Institute’s Relational Organizing Directed Research Fund. SDAN recruited 7 Sister District volunteers to tag their eligible friends and family in statuses about voting. People on their friend lists who lived in the study’s target states (Colorado, Washington, Michigan, Pennsylvania) were matched to the national voter file. The list was narrowed to friends with TargetSmart voter turnout propensity scores between 0 and 75, and TargetSmart partisanship scores between 50-100. Up to 52 of these people per volunteer were randomized into 3 conditions (civic duty: tagged in a status about how voting is a civic duty; pride: tagged in a status thanking them for voting this year; and control group: not tagged in any status). This resulted in a total sample of 254. All friends in a tagged condition were tagged in a Facebook status a few days before vote by mail ballots were mailed in Colorado and Washington (October 18, 2018) or a few days before the election in Michigan and Pennsylvania (November 2, 2018) depending on the state they lived in.

Takeaways

1) Being tagged in a status did not have a statistically meaningful effect on voting. The results indicate that people did not vote more often if they were tagged in a status than when they were not tagged.

  • Neither the civic duty (p=0.610) nor the pride (p=0.681) condition significantly predicted whether a tagger’s friends voted in the 2018 general election. This indicates that being tagged in the civic duty or pride condition was no different than not being tagged in any status.

2) Interpersonal closeness had a small effect on the full sample. Interpersonal closeness between the friend and the person who tagged them (assessed with the IOS scale; Aron, Aron, & Smollen, 1992) was a marginally significant predictor of voting (p = 0.070). In other words, the closer the relationship between the friend and the person who tagged them in the status, the more likely the friend was to vote.

  • The odds ratio indicates that for each point increase in closeness, the odds of voting increased around 40%.

3) Personality factors of the tagger were unrelated to friend voting. We included intellectual humility (a measure that reflects “…the degree to which people recognize that their beliefs may be wrong” (Leary et al., 2017)) and the Big 5 personality factor (openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, emotional stability/neuroticism, conscientiousness) scores for the taggers in an exploratory model and found that none of them were at all related to whether the friends they tagged turned out to vote (all ps < 0.9). Because testing an additional 6 predictors requires additional statistical power, we dropped these predictors from the remaining exploratory analyses.

  • Interestingly, when we ran the model with personality and social factors, interpersonal closeness became non-significant (all exploratory model ps > 0.54). This suggests that other social factors may be more influential than interpersonal closeness.

4) Social factors may be more relevant, at least for friends who were tagged. After removing personality factors of the tagger from the exploratory model, the measure that reflected how frequently the tagger and the friend interacted on Facebook (Frequency of FB interaction) appeared to be close to marginal significance (p = 0.118). Because this variable was only really relevant for friends who were tagged in a status (as opposed to friends who were randomized into the control group and not tagged), we ran the same model just on people who were tagged in the civic duty or pride status.

  • Frequency of FB interaction significantly predicted whether or not friends voted (p = 0.044). For each point increase in Frequency of FB interaction rating, friends who were tagged had 66% higher odds of voting. In other words, the more taggers interacted with the friends they tagged on Facebook, the more likely those tagged friends were to vote.
  • We also ran an exploratory model that tested a statistical interaction between tagging condition and frequency of FB interaction to determine if tagging condition influenced people differently depending on how much they interacted with their tagger on FB. The interaction was not significant (p = 0.680). This indicates that, while frequency of FB interaction between the friend and the person who tagged them did significantly predict whether or not friends voted, this influence didn’t meaningfully differ based on the content of the status they were tagged in (civic duty or pride).

5) Basic Takeaway: The results of the study indicate that tagging people in a Facebook status did not significantly predict voting behavior for the full sample, but that interpersonal closeness between the tagger and the friend was marginally significantly related to voting. The exploratory analyses in the study found that the personality of the person who tagged them was not related to voting behavior, but that frequency of Facebook interaction did seem to have a small, statistically significant effect on the people who were tagged in statuses. The small sample size means that we are underpowered to detect effects, but there is some compelling data in this test that suggests that aspects of the social relationship between a voter and the person trying to influence them may be a particularly good area for future studies, especially as it pertains to the frequency with which those people interact.

Caveats

  • Study Underpowered. The study is statistically underpowered, which means we may not have enough people in the sample to detect effects (if an effect is there), which limits the conclusions we can draw from the data. Even underpowered, it provides some compelling findings about the potential importance of interpersonal closeness and the frequency of interaction between two people.
  • Sample issues. Because this study involved volunteers tagging their friends and family, we were unable to recruit a representative sample. The sample for this study is skewed on both race (mostly white) and age (mostly in the range of 30-45). Not only does this mean that we can’t meaningfully control for those variables in the analysis, it means we can’t make any meaningful interpretations of the roles of those variables as they pertain to the outcome. Additionally, over 76% of friends in all conditions voted, a much higher turnout rate than the country’s average, indicating that the sample may not have been true GOTV voters (i.e., people who really need a nudge to get them out the door to vote on election day as opposed to reliable voters), even though their predicted turnout scores ranged from 0-75.

Contributions and Future Directions:

This study helps to clarify how the personality and social factors influenced voting in the relational voter turnout study. This is the third study exploring the efficacy of Facebook tagging for encouraging voter turnout and the first to incorporate the measure of interpersonal closeness used in this study (the IOS scale) and to include factors that pertain the personality of the tagger.

Building on these results, future studies that measure the efficacy of relational organizing should also include some measures that reflect the social relationship of the voter and the person trying to influence them so the role of things like interpersonal closeness and frequency of interaction in relational organizing can be fully explored.

If you’re interested in reading more about this study, download the full report.

Check out more SDAN findings on our research page.

SDAN’s commitment: It is SDAN’s intention to provide as much context as possible to allow for the nuanced interpretation of our data. SDAN’s convention is to contextualize effects by reporting p values, confidence intervals, and effect sizes for all models tested (these items may be in the longer report linked in the blog). Additionally, SDAN always differentiates between planned and exploratory analyses and a priori and post hoc tests, and reports the results of all planned analyses regardless of statistical significance. These analyses were reviewed by a statistician for accuracy. If you have questions about these findings, please use our contact form and include “SDAN Research” in the subject line.

References:
Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of other in the self scale and the structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(4), 596.

Haenschen, K. (2016). Social pressure on social media: Using Facebook status updates to increase voter turnout. Journal of Communication, 66(4), 542-563.

Leary, M. R., Diebels, K. J., Davisson, E. K., Jongman-Sereno, K. P., Isherwood, J. C., Raimi, K. T., … & Hoyle, R. H. (2017). Cognitive and interpersonal features of intellectual humility. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(6), 793-813.