Research within the field of behavioral science has shown that commitment devices are some of the most effective ways to change our actions and habits. A commitment device is any method of tying personal behavior to a consequence. The consequence could be financial (e.g. “First friend to skip a workout gives the other $100”) or it could be mild public humiliation (e.g. “Last person to arrive at a meeting has to apologize”).
As our elections get upended with the pandemic and social distancing, campaigns should tap into the proven power of commitment devices to engage supporters online and drive offline behavior. Asking your supporters to make commitments is an effective way to grow your permission-based marketing efforts as well.
For commitment devices in campaigns, you’re tapping into an individual’s discomfort with cognitive dissonance. Humans crave behavior that is consistent with past behavior and will do whatever it takes to make those align. If a supporter makes a commitment to your campaign via a pledge, you’ll have a much easier time later on getting them to follow through.
Here are six examples of commitment devices you can use as part of your online campaign to drive supporter action.
Pledge to Vote
A generic pledge to vote is the most basic form this tactic can take. You’re simply asking someone to vote. There’s no other ask beyond simply doing a civic duty. This is most powerful when you direct these efforts at low propensity voters that you know will support your candidate if only they take the time to vote.
You can launch a pledge to vote anytime politics and the election are top of mind. The important thing is gathering the contact information from the supporter to later remind them when voting begins that they’ve already agreed to vote and it’s time to follow through.
Pledge to Volunteer
Any campaigner who has ever tried to recruit volunteers to canvas, phonebank, or help with an event knows just how arduous this process can be. Using a commitment device can streamline your engagement.
Rather than having a generic volunteer signup form, turn it into a measurable commitment, like “I commit to volunteering at least [4 hours] [a month] to this campaign because I want to [protect our Second Amendment rights].” Then, when it’s time to get someone to follow through and take action, remind them that they made an earlier promise to themselves and the campaign.
Pledge to Donate
If your email list includes a segment of supporters who always open and click but never donate, try replacing a donation call to action with a pledge to donate. Of course you should offer to help them complete their pledge then and there with a redirect to a donation page, but you’ve created an incredibly effective call to action for future emails to this supporter.
It’s as simple as sending them an email or text reminding them of their donation pledge, how much the campaign is relying on that support, and encouraging them to make good on the pledge as soon as possible.
Pledge to Vote in Support of an Issue or Cause
Commitment devices work great with issues or causes that your voters care about. You could, for example, create a “Vote Pro Life Pledge” and promote it to voters via Facebook ads. Then, when voting arrives, remind them that they committed to voting pro life and provide them with information about all of the pro-life candidates (including yours) on the ballot.
Pledge to Vote for a Candidate
This may seem obvious but I think too many candidates and their campaigns forget to make the ask of their voters. Assume all you want that someone is going to vote for you, but it’s critical to get that data point and, most importantly, to have them establish that commitment.
Think about it this way, if you tell someone you’re going to their party, but the day arrives and you don’t feel like going, you’ll probably show up anyway to avoid the discomfort of having misled your friend. The same effect is at play with a voter who said they’ll vote for you but may get “too busy” on election day.
Make a Plan to Vote
Perhaps the most effective commitment device for your campaign is asking a supporter to make a plan to vote. Field research has shown this process can increase the likelihood a voter turns out by as much as 9%. To take advantage of this effect, you need to walk the voter through how they plan to vote (by mail or in person), when they plan to vote (early or on election day), and where (find their polling location). Building this plan helps them visualize the process, making it more real to them.
Then, when it comes time for them to vote, you can make a very personalized call to action and remind them to follow through on their commitment.
In each of these cases, the commitment devices only work if they reach voters – distribution is key. So is the followup. Use the data you’ve gathered to make the most personalized call to action you can. Commitment devices are a proven method of ensuring that an individual’s intentions and desires align with their actions and decisions.