A Cutting-Edge 2020 Tactic to Get Out the Vote: Handwritten Letters

The nonpartisan nature of Maria’s letter was part of its draw for Ms. East. “I don’t want to scream or yell or fight with anybody,” she said, adding, “this was a pleasant, calm way” to engage.

The personal touch is key, said Scott Forman, 37, who founded Vote Forward in 2017 when he sent 1,000 handwritten notes to Alabama voters ahead of that year’s special Senate election, in which Doug Jones, the Democrat, defeated the Republican, Roy Moore.

Mr. Forman identified 2,000 registered but inconsistent voters that year, meaning they had voted in some elections but not others. Half were sent letters; turnout among recipients was 3.4 percentage points higher than in the control group.

Later races in Ohio and Virginia showed smaller returns, between one to two percentage points, Mr. Forman said. But it proved his theory that something “old-fashioned and authentic” could tip the scales.

“People’s handwriting is a real, concrete thing,” he said. “It’s very hard for me to imagine a personal letter from another human being ever being something you would totally ignore.”

The efficacy of personalized political messaging is well established, according to experts. A face-to-face conversation with a neighbor or friend is better than a phone call from a stranger; a phone call is better than a form letter.

“People are moved by genuine, heartfelt communications,” said Eitan Hersh, an associate professor of political science at Tufts University. “Anything that cuts through the ads and glossy mailers and says, ‘Hey you don’t know me, but this election is so important and I really hope you’ll vote.’ It’s hard to manufacture that.”

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