Null Effects of Social Media Ads on Voter Registration: Three Digital Field Experiments

52 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2023

See all articles by Asli Unan

Asli Unan

Humboldt University of Berlin

Peter John

University College London - School of Public Policy; Department of Political Economy, KCL

Florian Foos

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Vanessa Cheng-Matsuno

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Date Written: August 22, 2023

Abstract

Civic organisations and progressive campaigns regard digital advertising as an essential method to register to vote low-participation groups, such as ethnic minorities, young voters, and frequent home movers like private-sector tenants. Digital strategies appear to be promising because the registration process can be completed online, usually in less than five minutes, using a web link in the advert. But do typical digital campaigns actually work in registering voters? To find out, we provide evidence from three randomised controlled trials: two conducted with advocacy organisations and the third run by the research team, carried out in two types of elections (general and local), and assigned either at the aggregate (studies 1 and 2) or individual (study 3) level. We find no evidence consistent with digital campaigning meaningfully affecting voter registrations. Despite wide reach and relatively high engagement rates, we find no effect of the campaigns on under-registered groups’ voter registrations in the three trials. The findings raise questions about commonly-used digital advertising strategies to register marginalised groups. These findings are consistent with other studies that report either null or minimal effects of digital ads on other types of political behaviour.

Keywords: elections, social media, digital ads, voter registration, youth mobilization

Suggested Citation

Unan, Asli and John, Peter and John, Peter and Foos, Florian and Cheng-Matsuno, Vanessa, Null Effects of Social Media Ads on Voter Registration: Three Digital Field Experiments (August 22, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4548286 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4548286

Asli Unan (Contact Author)

Humboldt University of Berlin ( email )

Unter den Linden 6
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Berlin, 10117
Germany

Peter John

University College London - School of Public Policy ( email )

29/30 Tavistock Square
London, WC1H 9QU
United Kingdom

Department of Political Economy, KCL ( email )

Strand
London, England WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

Florian Foos

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Vanessa Cheng-Matsuno

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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