Pilot: Text messages encourage young people to vote in elections
Text messages reminding young people to vote increased their voter turnout in the county elections held in January 2022. This is according to a pilot study carried out by the Ministry of Justice, the behavioural science working group at the Prime Minister’s Office and the University of Turku in connection with the elections.
In the study, a group of randomly selected 18–29-year-olds received text messages reminding them of their right to vote. More than 30,000 young people were sent a text message after the start of the advance voting period and another one a day before the actual elections. The young people who received the text messages had a slightly higher voter turnout than those in the control group. Voter turnout increased by about one percentage point to 32 per cent among the young people who received the text messages. A similar effect was observed in voter turnout among people living in the same household as the young people who received the messages.
The impact of the text messages was proportionally greater among those young people who vote less frequently. The activeness of young voters in relation to older voter groups also increased. In other words, the text message pilot was able to reduce gaps in voting activity both within the young people’s age group and between the different age groups.
“Low voter turnout among young people is a serious problem, because if young people do not vote, their voices will not be heard in decision-making. A lack of engagement learned at a young age can also continue throughout life. Activating voters in a more equal way has proven difficult in earlier pilot studies, however, as the activated voters have usually been similar in age and background to those who would vote anyway. The county election pilot is an important project, as it has been successful both in activating voters and in reducing gaps in participation between the different age groups and within the young people’s age group, in addition to being very cost-effective,” says Professor of Economics Janne Tukiainen from the University of Turku, who led the research team.
Three different versions of the message were sent to young people, as the study also assessed the effectiveness of the messages’ content. The study found that the simplest message was slightly more effective than the others in activating young people to vote.
Similar text message reminders have been successfully tested in Denmark and Norway in recent years. In both countries, the text messages increased voter turnout. This is the first time a pilot of this type has been conducted in Finland.
Young people’s voter turnout on the decline
Voter activity has been decreasing in Finland and elsewhere in the world since the 1980s. However, the decline can be seen in different population groups and age groups in different ways. Young people aged 18–29 vote considerably less often than older Finns.
Many efforts have been made in Finland to influence young people’s voter turnout, but the gaps in voter turnout between age groups are still greater here than in the other Nordic countries. Young people have been encouraged to vote through democracy education, communication campaigns and by sending letters to first-time voters, for example.
The objective of the working group on behavioural foresight and knowledge in future administration (the Kettu working group) is to promote and support a people-oriented, knowledge-based policy and administration that takes into account the specific characteristics of behaviour and decision-making.
Inquiries: Working group on behavioural foresight and knowledge in future administration, Maarit Lassander (PhD, Psychology), Senior Specialist, tel. +358 295 160 037, [email protected], Prime Minister’s Office; Janne Tukiainen, Professor, tel. +358 50 308 3620, [email protected], University of Turku; Niklas Wilhelmsson, Head of Unit, [email protected], tel. +358 295 150 348, Ministry of Justice
Link to the memorandum