Direct, personal engagement is one of the most effective ways to increase voter turnout, especially among people who are less inclined to vote. In the 2021 New York City municipal elections, low-propensity voters who were engaged by nonprofits providing support and services in their communities and therefore seen as trusted messengers turned out at double the rate of those who were not.

GoVoteNYC is a funder collaborative housed at the New York Community Trust. Since 2021, about a dozen foundations have invested $2.5 million in grants and over $13 million in aligned funding to support nonpartisan voter engagement. This year, GoVoteNYC is continuing to support this trusted messenger approach, while also asking: “What’s changed since 2021, and how do we need to adapt?” Here we’ll share what we’ve learned through a series of conversations with our grantee partners.

Grantee partners are facing three major challenges that must be addressed to ensure successful direct voter engagement. The New York Civic Engagement Table (NYCET), which plays a coordinating and support role for GoVoteNYC, has heard of similar challenges from peers across the country.

Ensuring the safety of canvassers

First, safety. Several grantees reported unsafe encounters while canvassing door-to-door and at community events. NYCET also has seen an increase in reports of hostile encounters. The New York Times recently reported on increasing public support for politicized violence nationwide.

Pivoting to ‘targeted relational organizing’

The second challenge is the declining effectiveness of get-out-the-vote texting. It was effective in 2020 when it was new and compelling and people on lockdown were glued to their phones. But in 2022, GoVoteNYC partnered with Columbia University professor Donald Green to conduct randomized testing of grantees’ voter mobilization tactics. The testing showed that there was no meaningful increase in turnout from mass texts and phone bank calls. One group sent targeted text messages to nearly 175,000 registered voters ahead of the June 2022 New York State primary elections; the turnout among those voters was only 0.1 percentage point higher than among comparable voters who did not receive the texts.

Engaging young voters

The third challenge is youth disillusionment. Young people are among the most active and engaged organizers and canvassers, yet right now, many feel disillusioned about the candidates. They’re also exposed to a lot of misinformation through social media.

Read the full article about bolstering direct voter engagement by Neill Coleman and Melody Lopez at Candid.