It’s a challenge for government and civic engagement organizations to move constituents from thinking about civic participation to action. This challenge is particularly pronounced in Get Out the Count (GOTC) efforts for the 2020 Census.
Every 10 years, the federal government is responsible for counting every person in the United States. However, minorities, immigrants, low-income people, and other groups have historically been undercounted. The consequences of an undercount are huge: lack of millions of dollars in federal funding and loss of political representation for these communities.
There are many reasons why these hard-to-count (HTC) communities are less likely to fill out the Census. A hostile political climate and lack of Internet access are just a couple. How do we reach HTC communities and get them to think about the importance of the Census so they can take action? One technique that has been proven effective is to promote a pledge campaign.
The most common pledges ask constituents to vote or donate. Not only are they popular approaches, their effectiveness is backed up by science: “Psychological theories of political behavior suggest that commitments to perform a certain action can significantly increase the likelihood of such action (1)."
This study tested whether pledging to vote would increase youth turnout compared to traditional mobilization techniques. Just like GOTC campaigns struggle to engage HTC communities, Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts address the issue of low participation rates amongst young people. The results showed that taking a pledge to vote significantly increased the likelihood of youth following through to cast a vote.
Organizations conducting Census outreach are taking notice of this technique and are including it in their GOTC efforts. United Way, for instance, launched a Be Counted pledge form on their site. Similarly, community-based organizations in more than 30 states have come together in the “Census Counts” campaign that encourages constituents to pledge to respond to the Census.
In focus groups conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this year, “participants most frequently advocated for reminders to be delivered via text messages and cell phone push notifications (2)." With that in mind, CommunityConnect Labs developed the Community Motivator, a solution that automates follow-up with nudges and reminders to complete the Census.
At CommunityConnect Labs, we’ve incorporated the research on the effectiveness of pledge campaigns with the knowledge that individuals desire to be communicated with via mobile messaging to create our Community Motivator solution. Hoping to help bridge the digital divide, our Community Motivator doesn’t require Internet access to participate; a phone with text messaging capabilities will suffice. It’s available in multiple languages to ensure all communities can interact. Our digital “Pledge to Be Counted” solution meets people where they are, and can be used on multiple platforms from standard SMS to WhatsApp.
Cities, counties, and community-based organizations can promote their unique number and encourage individuals to text in to take the pledge. Once they’ve opted in, they will instantly receive a personalized digital pledge card that can be shared on Facebook and Twitter with one tap. Once opted-in, these contacts will be added to the list of people to receive automatic reminders to complete their Census next year.
(1) M. Costa, B.F. Schaffner, and A. Prevost. “Walking the walk? Experiments on the effect of pledging to vote on youth turnout.” Plos One. May 29, 2018.
(2) S. Evans et al. “2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS) Focus Group Final Report.” U.S. Census Bureau. Jan. 24, 2019.