With the most divisive election in 150 years approaching, politicians on both sides of the aisle are fervently urging others to vote. This moment is very sensible, given that about 100 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 election. Many have argued that non-voters are the largest voting bloc.
Is there anything that an everyday citizen like you can do that will increase the likelihood that your voting-ambivalent friend will actually vote? It turns out that there are some workable strategies that emerge from research on voting behavior and the science of persuasion.
Calm your energy down, fill your heart up
Even if you are very agitated about the election, you will be more persuasive if you calm and center yourself before engaging in conversation designed to persuade. Furthermore, remind yourself of things you like or admire about your non-voter before you talk to them. This positive energy will help counter a tendency to judge them negatively because of their current attitude about voting.
Learn the issues they care about
Even if your non-voter is apathetic about voting, there are likely some issues they care about. One useful way to find out is to ask: What concerns you most about our country’s direction?
Ask questions that elicit stories, then listen empathetically
Before you try to invite someone to think differently about voting, ask them some questions so you can get a sense of the driving reasons behind their current stance on voting. It is best if you ask questions that prompt them to tell you a story of a personal experience related to how they feel.
Find and convey acceptance and agreement
If you do so honestly, acknowledge the importance of the issues they consider important. Also, let them know that you have some empathy for the reasons they don’t want to vote.
Tell a story that shows you have similarities to them
Reinforce your acceptance of their reasons for not voting by telling them a story of a time when you felt disconnected or dis-empowered from a group. The situation does not have to be about voting for office holders; the key is using a personal anecdote to convey: “I have felt similarly to you.”
Tell a story about your own empowerment
Show them that there is a path from feeling dis-empowered to being more engaged by telling a personal story about you taking this path. Again, the story does not have to involve voting per se. The core point that your story should illustrate is that a person can find the motivation to involve themselves after being uninvolved, and traveling this path has benefits to them.
Connect the voting to their issues of concern
Draw the connection between the issues they care about and voting. As you think about doing this, remember that local elections also matter.
Ask them to vote on behalf of others and/or as a personal favor to you
Sixty percent of non-voters have never been asked by someone to vote. If there are groups they care about that can’t vote (e.g., children, animals, ex-felons, the disabled), consider asking them to vote on their behalf. Also, think about asking them as a favor to you.
Help them make a voting plan
Research shows that a critical factor in people’s voting behavior is having a specific and realistic plan about submitting a ballot. Once you get them to agree to vote, have a conversation about their actual plan to vote, even down to details about timing and transpiration. Also, let them know that you will check back with them to confirm that they voted.