Friend-to-friend texting may be the most effective voter mobilization tactic during 2020 election

Newswise — Friend-to-friend text messaging may be the new door-to-door canvassing leading up to the 2020 election.

Columbia researchers have found that texting may be an effective alternative to conventional, face-to-face voter mobilization tactics during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team, which was led by Data Science Institute postdoctoral research fellow Aaron Schein, found that receiving a message from a friend led to increased voter turnout during the 2018 midterm elections. The estimated effect was equivalent to door-to-door canvassing, an important finding in the social distancing era.

Schein and his collaborators, including political scientist Donald Green, DSI member David Blei, DSI postdoctoral fellow Dhanya Sridhar, et al., partnered with Outvote, a get-out-the-vote tool, to conduct the study.

Outvote randomized an aspect of their system prior to the 2018 midterm elections to unobtrusively assess the causal effect of their users' messages on voter turnout. The Columbia team developed a statistical methodology to address the challenges of such data, and analyzed Outvote's previous findings. Their analysis reveals evidence of large and statistically significant treatment effects from friend-to-friend mobilization efforts. The statistical methodology may be used to study other friend-to-friend messaging efforts.

Schein uses statistical models to understand and predict factors that drive new voter turnout in U.S. political elections. He acknowledges that studying friend-to-friend appeals experimentally can be challenging. "If the study is too obtrusive, such that it hampers natural interaction, we may end up measuring the effect of friend-to-friend appeals that are stilted and inauthentic. On the other hand, if the experimental intervention is too weak, we may fail to estimate effects with precision," he said.

The study employed a "light-touch" scheme, Schein said, while injecting enough randomness into the system to identify causal effects. "The statistical challenges we overcome to estimate these effects are likely inherent to any study of authentic friend-to-friend appeals and are perhaps why there have been so few studies of this kind to date."

These research findings were presented to the 2020 International Conference on Computational Social Science (IC2S2 2020). Schein received the 2020 Best Presentation award during the conference.



The Data Science Institute (DSI) at Columbia University was established in 2012 to advance the state-of-the-art in data science; transform all fields, professions, and sectors through the application of data science; and ensure the responsible use of data to benefit society. We train the next generation of data scientists, develop innovative technology, foster collaborations in advancing techniques to interpret data and address pressing societal problems, and work closely with industry to bring promising ideas to market. Discover more at

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5650
Released: 26-Oct-2020 4:25 PM EDT
Election polls are 95% confident but only 60% accurate, Berkeley Haas study finds
University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business

How confident should you be in election polls? Not nearly as confident as the pollsters claim, according to a new Berkeley Haas study.

23-Oct-2020 2:45 PM EDT
Who Does the Electoral College Favor?
Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

Trump’s 2016 victory in the Electoral College without leading in the popular vote has led to wide speculation of a repeat in 2020. Columbia University researchers have been wondering the same thing. They examined how Electoral College outcomes are conditioned by how states voted in previous elections. Their simulations suggest that in 2020 the Electoral College bias is likely to again favor the Republicans, but to a lesser degree than in 2016.

Newswise: Experts say most damaging scenario to US democracy is Trump rejecting election results, potential Supreme Court ruling against him
Released: 26-Oct-2020 8:55 AM EDT
Experts say most damaging scenario to US democracy is Trump rejecting election results, potential Supreme Court ruling against him
University of Notre Dame

To get expert opinions on the fate of the nearly 245-year-old democracy, a group of students from Notre Dame conducted a survey and a path selection game with 150 members of political science professional associations who specialize in elections.

Released: 23-Oct-2020 3:50 PM EDT
Trump Led Biden in Twitter Volume and in Positive Mentions, Analysis Shows
New York University

President Donald Trump received more Twitter mentions, and a greater increase of positive mentions, relative to former Vice President Joe Biden Thursday night, shows a new analysis of online activity leading up to, during, and immediately after the second presidential debate.

Released: 23-Oct-2020 2:30 PM EDT
Trump continued to falsely claim Biden supported getting rid of private insurance

In the final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, moderator Kristen Welker asks the candidates to speak about their plans for healthcare in the United States. President Trump once again accused his oponent of wanting to eliminate private health insurance. Trump has made this claim repeatedly. This claim is false. It conflates Biden's plan with those of other Democrats pushing "Medicare for All."

Released: 23-Oct-2020 1:50 PM EDT
Are we really “rounding the corner" when it comes the coronavirus pandemic?

“We’re rounding the turn,” Trump said during the debate. This implies a meaningful improvement. We rate this claim as false. On that very same day the U.S. recorded 77,000 new cases, according to NBC News. This tops the previous high that had been set in July. We may be learning to "live with it," as Trump mentioned, but this is not an improvement.

Released: 22-Oct-2020 11:55 AM EDT
A video posted by a European-based group called World Doctors Alliance falsely claims the novel coronavirus is “a normal flu virus”

A video posted by a European-based group called World Doctors Alliance claims the novel coronavirus is “a normal flu virus” and there is no COVID-19 pandemic. Although the video was removed from Youtube, portions of the video are circulating on Facebook. We rate this claim as false. Scientists universally agree that the cuase of this pandemic is a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and not a strain of influenza. COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu. COVID-19 so far has killed more people in the U.S. than the past five flu seasons combined.

Showing results

110 of 5650