Swipe Up to Vote: Voter Registration Increases through Social Media

After the 2014 midterms marked a 72-year record low for voter participation, 2018’s National Voter Registration day saw a record high for voter registration: over 800,000 people registered to vote in one day, according to CNN.

Some of the largest social media platforms—like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat—supported National Voter Registration Day by partnering with TurboVote, an online voter registration application. TurboVote claims that 60 percent of non-voters simply don’t register or vote because of “process issues” such as finding polling places, requesting absentee ballots, or just forgetting.

To counteract the problem of forgetting, Facebook reminded users to register with a shareable link that appeared in News Feeds. Instagram sponsored a “story” that appeared at the top of users’ homepages which asked, “Will you register to vote?” and offered a “Swipe up to register” feature. Twitter timelines featured a prompt with a link to register and encouraged users to tweet the hashtag #BeAVoter. Snapchat greeted users with a tab on their user pages that urged, “Register to vote!” in English or Spanish and linked to a registration form that could be completed inside in the app.

These campaigns were geared towards the younger demographic—eligible high schoolers and college students—who have earned a reputation of being the more unreliable group of voters. According to the Washington Post, turnout among people aged 18 to 29 fell 25 points between 2012 and 2014, as opposed to 16 points among those aged 60 and older.

The 2014 midterms saw not only the lowest overall turnout since 1942, but also the lowest turnout of young voters since 1972. U.S. Census data showed that voters aged 18 to 29 made up 13 percent of the national electorate.

Meanwhile, according to the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. use Snapchat, 71 percent use Instagram, and 45 percent use Twitter. Among social media platforms, Facebook still dominates overall, with 68 percent of U.S. adults being users.

The majority of those who do use these apps open them at least once a day—around 80 percent for Snapchat and Instagram and 74 percent of Facebook users. These statistics suggest the wide-reaching potential of National Voter Registration Day campaigns on social media, which may help to close the gap between younger and older voter participation.

However, other gaps still remain. Voter turnout among the 18 to 24 demographic is even lower for those not enrolled in college, who make up 60 percent of U.S. youth. The Center for American Progress cited U.S. Census data which demonstrated that people of color and lower-income Americans “are disproportionately burdened by registration barriers.”

Research also shows that the success of social media campaigns depends on their nature—the more personalized, the better. A 61-million-person study from the University of California at San Diego found that Facebook users who received a “social message” with an “I Voted” button and pictures of friends who had also voted were more likely to click the button than users who received an “informational message” without names or pictures of friends.

Even more effective than social media, email, or text message campaigns are face-to-face registration efforts. A move-in day pilot program at Northwestern University in which every new student had a one-on-one conversation with a peer about registering saw that 95 percent of eligible Northwestern students registered to vote. Voter turnout among students jumped from 49 to 69 percent after the program was implemented between the 2012 and 2016 elections. Colleges implementing similar voter registration programs report comparable success.


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