Voters Not Happy About "Shame" Postcards

By: Brian Johnson Email
By: Brian Johnson Email

Rose Brown and her family have lived in Holt for 7 years. She was shocked by a political postcard she received in the mail.

"The first thing that came through my mind is identity theft," said Brown.

The post card was especially alarming to them because their son Jonah just turned 18. He wasn't eligible to vote in previous elections, but the post card says he did.

"We don't know if it's true or not---voter fraud is actually happening or not. But something like this, so close to the election makes it, makes you wonder," said Bernard Brown, Rose's husband.

The Michigan Democratic Party sent the post cards. They said it's one of several things they're doing to encourage people who may have missed an election to vote.

The postcard says we noticed that you didn't vote in the August primaries, and "because we keep track of every individual voter, when you skip an election, we worry it could become a habit -- a bad habit we want you to break."

Brown and her family do not appreciate the message.

"No card should come in the mail from one party saying that you didn't vote in August or you voted already and they're tracking you," said Rose Brown. "That's not right."

Not only did the postcard raise questions it offended them because they have taught their kids about the importance of voting.

"Me and my wife have both been very adamant about it's not just a right, but it's a responsibility to vote," said Bernard Brown.

"If a party is going to do something like that I guess they feel scared or something that they need more support. That they need the young voters to help them out," said Jonah Brown, the 18 year-old that the postcard is addressed to.

"Even if I didn't get that, I would still go out and vote," said Jonah Brown.

Matt Grossmann says the tactic works.

"Parties or groups would send them to voters who they already thought they were likely to support their side, but they weren't sure would actually turn out to vote," said Matt Grossmann a political science professor at MSU.

A recent study produced by Yale University using similar mailed messages found that postcards in the mail like the one Jonah received kind of shame people into voting, and people react when they know their voting is being monitored. Social pressure mail increased voter turnout by 23 percent. Shaming people for not voting increased voting 28 percent.

"Pride is somewhat of a powerful motivator, but doesn't seem to be as powerful of a motivator as shame. So both are important aspects of human nature, and they do seem to work in stimulating voter turnout," said Grossmann.

"I was a little disturbed by it, that they can track people that don't vote and do vote," said Rose Brown.

"It's important for voters to know that whether you turn out to vote is public information, and what that means is if you disenfranchise yourself, than your ideas and interests are likely to be ignored by future candidates," said Grossmann.

The Michigan Democratic Party wouldn't say who they are targeting with these postcards. News Ten has confirmed, they are not mailing them out to all of the people who didn't vote in the August primary, just certain voters.

The Michigan Republican Party says it doesn't send postcards like this.

Part of the study mentioned above was conducted in East Lansing by the Practical Political Consulting group. The complete report is at the following link:
http://isps.research.yale.edu/uploads/publications/141.pdf


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