Intelligence

Social Media Gets Out the Vote

Grace Devlin

Account Executive

With less than a week to the 2018 midterm elections—which some think may flip the House—more Millennials and GenX-ers say they plan to vote, thanks to an unlikely motivator: Snapchat.

The social media platform, once known as a place to exchange, well, questionable photos, is trading its sexting reputation for something more serious. Over the last two weeks, Snapchat successfully helped more than 400,000 people register to vote through the app.

To make it happen, the app placed a button on the profiles of users’ 18 and over. The button led Snap users to TurboVote.org, a nonpartisan registration site that helps users determine where they’re eligible to vote, and navigate the registration process. Snapchat also sent videos to its users, urging them to vote on election day. Of the 418,000 people that registered with Snapchat’s prompting, 79,148 registered in Texas, 29,044 in Florida, 22,649 in Georgia and 17,994 in Ohio—all of which have competitive races for the midterms.

Snapchat isn’t alone in its efforts to mobilize voters. Earlier this month, Taylor Swift broke her political silence announcing her support for Tennessee’s Democratic candidates on Instagram. Although many were quick to brush off her endorsement as nonconsequential, the numbers tell a different story. Her post received more than 2 million likes, and Vote.org, which Swift linked to in the post, reported a more than 10x spike in traffic that day—from 14,000 visitors to 155,000. Just two days after Swift’s post, the organization said it had 169,000 new registrations.

Twitter also reported its hashtag, #beavoter, has doubled in usage compared to the 2016 election. The social media platform ran a series of promoted ads using the lingo during National Voter Registration Day, and while there’s no data to directly link the two, a record 800,000 people registered to vote on September 25.

Snapchat and Twitter are joined by Facebook—which just launched a “Get To Know Your Candidates” feature—as well as the dating apps Bumble and Tinder. Bumble now gives users the option of donning an “I am a voter” badge on their profile, while Tinder took it one step further. The dating app partnered with Rock the Vote to launch an in-app registration service as well as a “Swipe the Vote” feature, which allows users to swipe left or right on different issues to see which politician matched their views best.

Ramping up excitement among young people, and pushing voter registration is incredibly important. But we can’t help but wonder: will it matter for voter turnout?

Ahead of the election, it’s hard to tell. This recent opinion piece in MarketWatch argued it would, if only due to peer pressure.

“When this two-word statement shows up in the Facebook News Feed, a lot more people vote (this is the behavioral principle of social influence: we see that our friends voted and we want to do it, too),” behavioral scientists Ted Robertson and Dan Connolly write regarding Facebook’s “I Voted” sticker. “As long as it shows up in everyone’s feed, the button is a simple, helpful tool that encourages people to vote — not for a particular candidate, just to vote, full stop.”

While we wait to see how voter registration translates to poll attendance, it’s worth noting and applauding the civic work social media platforms have taken on. Were some initiatives perhaps more about building goodwill to combat political or PR issues? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be effective for driving action, as well. Whether it’s adding full public policy departments like Facebook and Snapchat, or taking Bumble’s approach of inspiring political conversations and self-expression, we look forward to seeing if and how these initiatives develop.

Headed to the polls because of something you saw on social (maybe even this blog post)? Let us know! Tweet us @vested.

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