In the summer of 2022 the Center for Racial and Gender Equity (CRGE), in partnership with the Othering and Belonging Institute (OBI) at UC Berkeley, conducted a series of messaging tests, with the goal of identifying an effective narrative framework to mobilize a broad base of Wisconsin voters to participate in the 2022 general election.
Through social media ad placements targeting a diverse audience of voters in Wisconsin, as well as residents of areas with relatively high Black populations, CRGE and OBI tested the following GOTV messages:
Message A promotes democracy as a unifying social value that allows community members to come together and make their collective voices heard.
Message B platforms voting as a viable tool for communities to secure tangible social benefits, such as quality childcare, healthcare, jobs, and education.
Message C draws on current events relating to public safety in order to highlight the urgent need to vote in favor of policy action.
Message D employs an identity centered approach, calling on women to unite around shared threats to public safety and vote for policy change.
Ahead of Wisconsin’s 2022 general election, CRGE unveiled an ambitious field plan aimed at mobilizing voters to unseat Republican Senator Ron Johnson, safeguard Democratic control of the governor's seat, and promote Democratic representation in the statehouse.
In past election cycles, CRGE has focused its mobilization efforts almost exclusively on Black voters. However, given Wisconsin’s relatively low Black population, CRGE expanded its 2022 field plan to include all voters of color, as well as white voters with low racial resentment scores. Moreover, newly implemented rules governing political ad placements on Facebook restricted CRGE’s ability to target tailored messages to specific demographic groups.
These new challenges necessitated a strategic messaging approach emphasizing issues that mobilize Black communities while also resonating with Democratic voters from other demographic groups. To that end, CRGE partnered with OBI to develop unifying narrative frameworks aimed at mobilizing voters across diverse communities.
Through its broader Bridging & Belonging initiative, OBI has established expertise in the field of bridging messaging, The principle of bridging served as an overarching framework for CRGE and OBI in developing four distinct voter mobilization messages to test among the target audiences.
Message A lifts up democracy as a shared value that brings communities together and allows voters to amplify their collective voices.
Message B platforms voting as an effective tool for securing tangible services and resources that improve the daily lives of community members.
Message C highlights current events relating to public safety in order to emphasize the urgency of voting as a means of policy change.
Message D adopts an identity-centered approach, urging women to unite around shared threats to public safety and vote for policy action.
In July 2022, CRGE launched its GOTV messaging tests through a series of targeted digitals ads on Facebook. In the initial test, CRGE placed four concurrent advertisements featuring the text copy and video for each respective message. Ad viewers were prompted to engage with the ad by clicking on a button marked “Learn More,” which linked to a voter information page hosted on CRGE’s website. The effectiveness of the test messages was measured by total link clicks, as well as the cost per click.
Each advertisement targeted a diverse audience of Black, Latinx, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Indigenous residents across the state, as well as white voters with a relatively low racial resentment score on the voter file ideology scale. In a subsequent test, CRGE replicated the advertisements for the two highest performing ads with a new target audience comprising voters in Wisconsin zip codes with the relatively high Black populations.
Among the four key messages that CRGE and OBI tested, both Message A and B resonated strongly with voters, yielding a lower cost per click than the average among all Facebook ads placed in the U.S. in July 2022. By contrast, Message C and D proved less effective, each generating a cost per click that far exceeded the nationwide average.
Between the two messages with optimal cost per click rates, Message B yielded the highest total number of link clicks for both audiences.
Facebook users who were mobilized to click the action link spent on average 3 minutes and 17 seconds interacting with CRGE’s voter information webpage, indicating a high level of engagement.
Findings and Application
According to the messaging tests, bridging narratives that unite voters through the shared value of democracy resonate strongly across a diverse audience of Black, Latinx, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Indigenous residents, as well as racially progressive whites. Within that framework, messaging that highlights voting as a means to secure tangible benefits (i.e healthcare, childcare, access to education) proves more effective than the narrative emphasizing abstract values associated with democracy (i.e. equity, justice, and inclusion).
CRGE will directly apply these findings in developing a strategic messaging approach for our 2022 campaign to unseat Republican Senator Ron Johnson and to preserve Democratic control of the Wisconsin governorship. Through voter engagement scripts, printed literature, and digital ads, CRGE will frame democracy as a important tool to leverage resources for communities and emphasize our endorsees' commitments to championing equitable investment in tangible public services.