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What Works and What Doesn’t–Postcards

Posted on August 6, 2021

To say the year 2020 was a turbulent year which presented its own unique set of challenges to overcome would be an understatement; its election cycle was no different. Whether campaign strategists and their volunteers wanted to come to terms with the hard truth that, in a changing world, voter contact efforts must change with them was no longer an option but instead an imperative. Thus, they were given no choice but to get creative. 

What strategies would work? What wouldn’t? This guessing game quickly became a learning experience–one that, if analyzed properly, can and should determine voter contact efforts in the future in order to maximize results.

Postcards seemed like the most surefire way to ramp up voting efforts. They’d encourage people to register to vote, inform them of their polling places, and, surely, drive up voter turnout. However, how effective are postcards as a campaign method really? Is it possible that everyone’s idea of the optimal way to reach a wide audience could be misguided?

In short, yes. One study done by the Sister District Project found that voters who received postcards did vote more. Despite this, the effect was not as widespread as it was expected to be and was thus determined to be statistically insignificant. Moreover, it was found that one candidate benefited and one did not among those who received postcards. Additionally, the Alliance for Climate Education and the Analyst Institute also partnered in 2020 to examine this issue further. Their findings were similar: the postcards they sent out seemed to affect neither voter registration rate nor voter turnout. 

With this being said, it is worth noting that sending out handwritten postcards for political gain is a relatively new concept. There have been only a handful of studies on them and further research is needed. Swing Blue Alliance/Swing Left Greater Boston has a large dataset of Florida Democrats who received a vote by mail application, an early voting postcard, or both. We are comparing our records to the voter file to determine the effect on turnout. 

This post is the first in a series of blogs which will explore the best methods of voter contact in hopes that this research will be able to positively impact future elections. 

Maggie Grimm, University of Mississippi student and intern at Swing Blue Alliance