Katherine Haenschen’s (PhD ’16) dissertation, “Get @ The Vote: Using Facebook and Email to Increase Voter Turnout” won Best Dissertation for the Mass Communication division of the International Communication Association (ICA). Haenschen has also secured a tenure-track position. After finishing her year as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, Haenschen will head to Virginia Tech University to be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication.
Get @ The Vote: Using Facebook and Email to Increase Voter Turnout
This dissertation investigates the effects of two commonly used forms of digital communication – email and Facebook – as mechanisms of voter mobilization. These studies leverage unique affordances of both mediums to boost voter turnout: Facebook increases the visibility of users' behaviors on the platform, and email messages and Facebook advertisements are inexpensive and easy to send to mass audiences. To explore this topic, I conduct four field experiments designed to leverage Facebook and email messages to increase voter participation during the 2014 general election in Texas. These experiments adapt social pressure messaging, which emphasizes the public nature of voting records and attempts to increase the visibility of voting behaviors, for digital communication platforms. To implement two of the studies, I develop a new method of conducting field experiments on Facebook randomized at the level of the individual that are implemented with the help of confederates. The findings demonstrate that Facebook and email can be used to increase voter turnout, and that the effects of mobilization within peer-to-peer networks are much larger than those obtained from unsolicited mass-email messages. This work contributes to existing theory by demonstrating that voting behavior circulates and can be induced through networks. Furthermore, the heightened visibility of user behaviors within online social networks was able to amplify the effects of the treatments beyond what has been produced in an offline context. Overall, the results show that digital media can be used to increase voter turnout, and offer reasons to be optimistic about the future of democracy in our increasingly digital society.