Scare tactic or motivator? Social pressure mailings coming soon to a mailbox near you

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

Beth Cerda’s 21-year-old son is on the autistic spectrum and was annoyed when he received a piece of mail recently from the Progressive Turnout Project.

The grassroots organization is active in 18 close races for congressional seats, trying to flip them from red to blue.

They do this a number of ways including door knocking, phone calls, and a relatively new tactic they call social pressure mailings.

The mailing is a printed sheet of paper that has the voter’s name and voting record on it. It also has some text that explains why they are getting the mailing.

One of the lines reads: “How would your friends, family, and neighbors feel if they saw your voting record and knew you were an infrequent voter?”

Priyal Amin works with the Progressive Turnout Project and tells me they carefully select the words and phrases used in their mailer to motivate the receiver to vote.

According to Amin, social pressure mailers result in an increase in voter turnout of around 8%.

Amin says the goal of the mailer is to motivate not to offend. The organization wants the receiver to think about their decision to vote or not to vote and be proud to say they have voted regularly.

Part of that motivation involves pointing out that if you vote is a public record.

The Progressive Turnout Project’s mailer makes it clear that who you vote for is kept secret. Which is true, who you vote for is not a public record and no one should know who you vote for.

However, other organizations do not take the extra step like the Progressive Turnout Project does to clarify that important distinction.

Several mailers sent to residents in the 12th Congressional District ahead of Tuesday’s special election do not clarify that who you vote for is private.

Instead they use phrases like: “Remember, Voting is Public Record” and “Neighbors talk… what will your neighbors say about you if you don’t vote?”

Another reads: “If you don’t vote and liberal Danny O’Connor wins, what will you tell your neighbors? Remember: Voting is a Public Record.”

Both of these mailers were paid for by the Republican National Committee Independent Expenditure.

Another major difference between the two mailers is the partisanship behind them.

The Progressive Turnout Project mailer does not push one candidate over another unlike the RNC mailer.

It should also be noted that both mailers were created and distributed without the consent of the candidates or their committees.

Chris Fink lives in the 12th Congressional District and has received the Republican mailers.

He was put off by them and says the passive aggressive language and the negativity employed could backfire with knowledgeable voters or those who are on the fence.

“If the idea is voter shaming, or the idea is social pressure marketing, that pressure is amped up if you think something is more transparent than you realized,” said Fink.

Meanwhile, Cerda says the scare tactics aren’t going to work on her.

“Frankly, it’s none of anybody else’s business who anybody votes for, or if they do,” said Cerda.

The Progressive Turnout Project admits they have received a small number of complaints about the mailers, of which they have sent out more than 87,000.

With the General Election coming soon, Amin says mailers like voters in the 12th Congressional District received are likely to be used across the state in other races in the next few months.

“I definitely think you will see this in all districts across the country this year, this election is so important,” said Amin.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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