NPR logo The Shame, Oh, The Shame


The Shame, Oh, The Shame

At this late date, the Obama and McCain campaigns aren't prospecting for new, persuadable voters anymore. They just want to get out the vote they know they can count on.

And what's the best way to make someone vote? Shame, it turns out.

So here comes the political action committee of, one of Barack Obama's best friends this year, with a viral video considerably hipper than its usual pushing-the-political-envelope approach. It's a fake TV news report, detailing America and the world's reaction to one shlump who didn't vote and let Obama lose. The techno-geek element is the embedding of said shlump's name, repeatedly, in the video.

This is the video with your faithful correspondent as the shlump.

Think this feels familiar? Maybe like The Onion, the only humorous thing to be found in American journalism these days? There's a reason. It was created by Peter Koechley, MoveOn's expansion director, formerly The Onion's managing editor.

More about video-induced shame after the jump....

Koechley says the big idea behind the video came from research by three political scientists at Yale University: Alan Gerber, Donald Green and Christopher Larimer. Washington Post "Department of Human Behavior" columnist Shankar Vedantam has a nice analysis of their findings today, describing how the three pol sci guys wrote letters to four sets of Michigan voters in 2006.

Homely though they were, the letters had a powerful effect. The control group's turnout rate was slightly less than 30 percent. Among those who received the "civic pride" letter, turnout was 6 percent higher than the control group's. Among those who were told they were being studied, it was 12 percent higher. Among those who were shown whether they had voted in the previous election, the turnout was 16 percent higher.

And telling people what everyone in the neighborhood had done the previous Election Day — and letting them know that they would be similarly informed about the current election — boosted turnout by 27 percent.

So the more you know others know about voting behavior — yours and your neighbors' — the more likely you are to cast a ballot. Or so Gerber, Green and Larimer conclude.

Alex Navarro-McKay, deconstructing the MoveOn video at Room 8, a New York politics blog, points out the video uses humor to ease past the shame.

Koechley sounds most un-Onion-like when he talks about the strategy.

"There's a lot of great videos going around, I mean really a lot of excellent videos going around this year, from all sorts of organizations and people," he says. "But I was excited really to base this one in proveable, metrics-driven, get-out-the-vote research and strategy."

He added: "There's an actual real chance that it will have an impact on the election."

MoveOn says the video is rocketing around the Internet. It went out last Wednesday night and Thursday morning to 3.5 million MoveOn members, and the group says it's already reached an additional 4.5 million viewers.

It seems a good bet that these 4.5 million were entertained. Maybe bedazzled by the techno-geek presentation. Motivated? We'll see.