Radio Public Service Announcements and Voter Participation among Native Americans: Evidence from two Field Experiments

Eline A. de Rooij Department of Political Science, Simon Fraser University


Donald P. Green Department of Political Science, Columbia University

Voter turnout among Native Americans tends to be quite low compared to other U.S. minority groups. Strategies for mobilizing the Native population are hampered by the fact that self-identified Native Americans tend to be widely dispersed geographically and often live in outlying rural areas. As a result, direct personal contact with national or state-wide political campaigns is rare among Native Americans.

One way to reach Native Americans living in rural communities is through Native American radio programs. To date, however, the efficacy of such media campaigns has not been the subject of rigorous evaluation. This article presents two randomized experiments designed to assess the effectiveness of public service announcements on public and tribal radio stations at increasing turnout. During the weeks leading up to the 2008 and 2010 U.S. general elections, we collaborated with the National Native News network to deploy encouragements to register and vote. A total of 85 radio stations were randomly assigned to treatment or control, with treatment stations conveying messages repeatedly over the course of several days. We measured outcomes by mapping the propagation zone of each broadcast station and calculating changes in the number of Native American voters within these boundaries.

Our results are equivocal but on the whole positive. Voter turnout seems to have increased in both elections. More experiments of this kinds are needed to pin down the effect with additional precision, but the results to date suggest that radio may be a highly cost-effective way to mobilize Native Americans.



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