Calling in the Behavioral Scientists

Not wanting to alienate anyone, I went back and forth about whether to send this article out, but I do think it’s a very interesting piece about how the Obama campaign reached out to behavioral scientists and integrated findings from their studies into its overall re-election strategy (and it’s in the health section of the paper, not politics). In the past, campaigns on both sides of the aisle have tended to rely on the “wise gurus” of politics who have spent their lives in campaigns and have been reticent to reach into the halls of academia for answers to strategy questions. Apparently this was not the case at all, this year.

Several interesting pieces about persuading behavior are mentioned. One strategy was to use positive peer pressure:

“Another technique some volunteers said they used was to inform supporters that others in their neighborhood were planning to vote. Again, recent research shows that this kind of message is much more likely to prompt people to vote than traditional campaign literature that emphasizes the negative — that many neighbors did not vote and thus lost an opportunity to make a difference.”

The other was getting people to create a game plan:

“Obama volunteers also asked people if they had a plan to vote and if not, to make one, specifying a time, according to Stephen Shaw, a retired cancer researcher who knocked on doors in Nevada and Virginia in the days before the election. “One thing we’d say is that we know that when people have a plan, voting goes more smoothly,” he said.”

I know that the latter was actually included in the blind scripts that were given to canvassers to go door to door, with the grassroots headquarter staffers even quoting to everyone that studies had shown a better than 30% increase in voter turnout if you could get a potential voter to pinpoint a time when they were planning to go vote.

 Whether you are happy, sad, or totally indifferent to the election results, this is an interesting piece on how behavioral science is being integrated into new areas of life.