Whether you're fired up about immigration issues, protecting health care coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, or preserving your reproductive rights (or, obviously, all of the above and more), you know that your vote isn't the only one that matters on election day. That's why it's just as important to do what you can to get your friends to the polls as well.
The good news is that one of the most well-studied approaches is also one of the most straightforward: appeal to their sense of civic duty, Donald P. Green, Ph.D., Burgess professor of political science at Columbia University, tells SELF. "Even registered voters who rarely vote still feel a strong sense they should be voting, and many of them think of themselves as voters even if they only vote in presidential contests," he says. You can definitely work with that.
Plus, research shows that voting can quickly become a repeat habit, Wendy Wood, Ph.D., provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California, tells SELF. And every time someone votes, they become even more likely to do it again. "If you can get people to vote this time, they’ll be more likely to vote in the future," she says. "So you're not just doing something good at this election, you’re [influencing the polls in the long term]."
But where do you even start?
1. First things first: Make sure everyone is registered.
Most of the studies we have about getting people to vote are only looking at people who are already registered to vote, Green says. And although many of the same strategies to get registered voters to the polls are effective in unregistered voters, there's obviously another big hurdle to overcome first. So, taking care of voter registration as early on in the process as you can makes your other strategies all the more effective.
Understandably, many unregistered voters are people who have just moved or move frequently, Green says. So, if you can, make it a priority when you move to get registered ASAP and encourage your recently relocated friends to do the same. It's worth noting, however, that some states make this easier than others. California, for instance, automatically registers people to vote when getting state IDs (they can still opt out), and several other states have same-day registration and voting policies that make the process much easier.
2. Have a real conversation with them—and don't rely on Facebook.
The best way to get the people you know to vote is to actually talk to them. But not all forms of communication are equal, Green says. Research shows that the more personalized and direct your attempts to reach out are, the more likely they are to be convincing. So, in general, studies looking at the possible uses of social media in this context do show promise, but "the effects tend to be very small," Green says.
For instance, an oft-cited study published in Nature in 2012 examined the effect of informational voting messages on Facebook, which were shown to millions of users during the 2010 congressional elections. Of the users included in the experiment, 1 percent (about 610,000 people) saw what the researchers called an "informational message," a banner that displayed a link to find their polling place, encouraged them to vote, and gave them the chance to click an "I Voted" button. Another 1 percent were in the control group and didn't get any message. When researchers matched a portion of users with publicly available voting records, results showed that people who got just the informational message went to the polls at roughly the same rate as those who got no message.
But the other 98 percent of users in the experiment (about 60 million people) were shown a "social message," a banner that included everything from the informational message—plus the profile photos of up to six of that user's friends who had clicked the "I Voted" button. Those who saw these messages were 2 percent more likely to click the "I Voted" button and 0.3 percent more likely to click on the link to learn about their voting information than those who saw the informational message. They were also 0.4 percent more likely to actually vote than those in the other groups. Overall, the researchers estimated that the social message directly contributed to 60,000 votes.
Those who weren't directly given the messages still saw that their friends clicked the "I Voted" button, which may have indirectly contributed to another 280,000 votes, the researchers argued. But only users' closest friends, defined as the 20 percent of friends that users interacted with on Facebook the most (so, probably people they know and are close with in real life or have a particularly solid online friendship with), had a significant impact. In fact, for each close friend who saw the social message, a specific user was 0.224 percent more likely to vote than if their friend hadn't seen any message.
This all suggests that social media may help you convince your friends to get to the polls, but only when you already have a solid in-person connection. And even then the effect isn't exactly staggering, Green says: "The banner itself did nothing and the [effect of the] widget with friends was well under a percentage point." On the other hand, talking to a friend or family member in person would be more likely to produce a larger effect, he explains.
3. Do whatever you can to streamline the entire process.
Many of the strategies here are similar to those used in public health campaigns, Green says, like those encouraging people to get their flu shots or helping a loved one get in touch with a therapist. "Here it's not so much about self-help, but more about standing up and being counted for your community or for democracy," he says. "These are all kinds of things that resonate with the typical registered voter."
And if you can make the experience as easy and streamlined as possible—including taking care of any logistical details you can that might give someone a chance to back out—you can turn an uncertain-yet-motivated voter into an actual for real voter. That might include helping your friends find their polling places or figuring out transportation to and from their polling place. "Give them a ride, meet them at the bus station and go together, do something to make it easier to get to the polls and then they’ll be more likely to form their own habits," Wood says.
Obviously, you can't take care of everything that might make your friend wary to make the trek (for instance, the idea that people might be monitoring the polls—possibly with guns—isn't exactly welcoming), but offering to go with them may help. Even something as simple as the weather may make people more or less likely to vote (although the rain doesn't seem to bother other countries as much as the U.S.). So committing to going with a friend who may waffle could be the thing that actually gets them there, even if you have to share an umbrella.
Keep in mind that essentially any time you change the "context" in which a behavior occurs, you make it less likely to become a solid habit, Wood notes, which includes your method of voting. So pay special attention to any friends who might be eligible for an absentee vote, for instance, or anyone who's moved to a new apartment and needs to find a new polling place, because they're especially vulnerable to skipping out.
4. If it helps, think of it like you're organizing a party (and maybe actually throw one).
"People build habits when they repeat behavior—and when they get rewards for it," Wood explains. That's why the little "I Voted" sticker you get after turning in your ballot is surprisingly motivating. "Maybe only your spouse will see it or a good friend at dinner, but it still gives you bragging rights and makes you feel good," she says. "Those kinds of things that feel silly and shouldn't matter that much actually do," she says.
Green also suggests treating the act of voting "like an invitation to a social event." That might mean sending out invitations (or, better yet, inviting people in person) that say you're going to vote at a specific time and place, that you'll all meet someone where and walk to your polling place together, or that you'll all meet up after for drinks. One organization, #VoteTogether, is taking the idea a step further and helping people organize actual parties centered around voting, many of which may be held at or near polling places.
But Wood says the more social and immediate the reward, the better. So, throwing a party on election night might be nice, but it would be even more effective to organize your friends, vote together, and give everyone a simple high-five afterwards. For bonus points, take a selfie together with your stickers (in a spot where it's legal to do so!) and watch the likes roll in.