Every four years, Elections Canada runs a “Get Out the Vote” appeal that’s meant to encourage everyone to cast their ballot on the appointed day, but at best, it seems like only 60 per cent of us get that message. Is there a way to send that message better, and more to the point, are we sending out the wrong message and/or sending it the wrong way?
This is the focus of Ofer Berenstein’s research. Berenstein, who is an instructor at the University of Calgary, recently completed his dissertation called “Preaching to the Choir: Models of Citizenship, and Concepts of Democracy in Reception of ‘Get Out the Vote’ Posters.” In other words, and put much more simply, Berenstein studied why more people don’t vote despite all the effort put into advertisements that tell them to vote.
His answer, in a nutshell, is that when you tell people that they *have to* vote, they read that as a little bit condescending. This is from a piece that Berenstein wrote about his research for The Conversation, “Instead of arguing that voting is a moral act or a manifestation of a civic duty, we should encourage non-voters to think independently about the personal benefits and motivations of participating in elections, and to come up with their own reasons for wanting to vote.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg though, and this week on the podcast, we go deeper with Berenstein on what his research tells us about getting more people engaged in politics, and where “Get Out the Vote” efforts go wrong. He also talks about the categories people fall in to in terms of their participation in politics, why you can’t encourage voter behaviour in the same way you pitch people on other activities, and why the language we use in these campaigns can be tricky. Also, Berenstein talks about the importance of localizing the message, and why voter engagement campaigns have to be about more than just voting.
So let’s talk about how we can work better to break the non-habitual habit on this week’s edition of the Guelph Politicast!
You can read Ofer Berenstein’s piece on The Conversation here, and you can find his full dissertation on the subject of getting non-habitual voters to the polls at the University of Calgary website here.
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