Ariel White - Reaching Returning Voters Through Individual Outreach and Social Ties

Encina Hall West, room 400

Millions of people in the US are currently eligible to vote after a past felony conviction. But people in this group register and vote at very low rates and are difficult to contact for mobilization efforts: they are residentially mobile, hard to find, and often skeptical of politics. In this study, we extend recent work about how to find and contact this group of hard-to-reach voters, asking whether people from their own lives might make better political messengers than strangers from civic organizations. We used administrative data to build a large mailing list of eligible but unregistered voters with past felony convictions in Texas. In a field experiment during the 2022 election season, we mailed out information about registration and voting. Some people were directly contacted with encouragement to register, while for other people we instead sent the registration materials to their already-registered household members with an encouragement to help people in their lives register; we test whether this household-connections approach works better than direct appeals to register and vote. Our study has practical use for civic-engagement efforts and also extends our understanding of how social connections and “relational organizing”  can foster political engagement, particularly among otherwise-unlikely-to-participate groups. 


Ariel White is the Silverman (1968) Family Career Development Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT. She studies voting and voting rights, race, the criminal legal system, and bureaucratic behavior. Her work uses large datasets (and sometimes experiments) to measure individual-level experiences, and to shed light on people's everyday interactions with government. She received her PhD in Government from Harvard University, where she was a doctoral fellow in the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy (at Harvard's Kennedy School) and a Radcliffe fellow. Her research has appeared in the American Political Science Review, Science, Political Behavior, and other journals.