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Text messages encourage votes

By Kyle Swanson U-Wire

ANN ARBOR – Forget Rock the Vote. According to a University of Michigan study, sending text messages to young people on or before Election Day helps get them to the polls.

A study released Wednesday by the University of Michigan and Princeton University found that young people who receive a text message reminding them to vote the day before an election are significantly more likely to vote than those who did not receive a text message.

In the November 2006 election, 4,000 voters between the ages of 18 and 31 who had recently registered to vote were sent a text message reminding them to vote. Out of the 4,000 participants, 59 percent reported that the message made them more likely to vote.

Those who received text messages were 4 percent more likely to vote than those in the same age bracket who didn’t receive the messages.

However, not all participants had a positive reaction to the text messages. Twenty-three percent of the participants found the text message reminder to be bothersome and 1 percent said they were less likely to vote because of the text message.

Allison Dale, co-author of the report and doctoral student of political science at the University, said it’s very unusual for a campaign tactic that doesn’t use personal contact to be so effective.

“Political candidates will be very interested in this,” Dale said.

Several 2008 presidential campaigns, including John Edwards, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, already offer text message reminders and updates to interested voters who sign up on their Web site.

In other parts of the world, text message reminders have already been used in elections.

Thailand used text messaging to remind more than 25 million of its citizens to vote in a 2005 election.

The study said that text messaging was a cost-effective means of rallying votes based on the response rate, costing $1.56 for each additional vote.

“The difficulty is that it will be hard to get cell phone numbers,” Dale said. “Those that would give their cell phone numbers to campaigns are probably the people that don’t need to be reminded.”

The study also found that short and to-the-point text messages proved to be the most effective, yielding a 5 percent increase in voter turnout.

Several different versions of the reminders were used.

One read: “A friendly reminder that tomorrow is Election Day. Elections often come down to a few votes, so please vote.”

When information about the location of polling places was added, the messages did not prove to be as effective, the study said.

Dale said this could be because extra information made the text messages more confusing.

Public Policy senior Hillary Doe said she supports the idea, but she expressed concern for those who would be charged for receiving a text message.

LSA senior Kirsten Rose said she likes the idea because so many people have cell phones.

“Text messaging and e-mail seem like a good idea to me,” she said. “Nothing else is as wide-spread.”

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