Assessing the Effects of Friend-to-Friend Texting on Turnout in the 2018 US Midterm Elections


Recent mobile app technology lets people systematize the process of messaging their friends to urge them to vote. Prior to the most recent US midterm elections in 2018, the mobile app Outvote randomized an aspect of their system, hoping to unobtrusively assess the causal effect of their users’ messages on voter turnout. However, properly assessing this causal effect is hindered by multiple statistical challenges, including attenuation bias due to mismeasurement of subjects’ outcomes and low precision due to two-sided non-compliance with subjects’ assignments. We address these challenges, which are likely to impinge upon any study that seeks to randomize authentic friend-to-friend interactions, by tailoring the statistical analysis to make use of additional data about both users and subjects. Using meta-data of users’ in-app behavior, we reconstruct subjects’ positions in users’ queues. We use this information to refine the study population to more compliant subjects who were higher in the queues, and we do so in a systematic way which optimizes a proxy for the study’s power. To mitigate attenuation bias, we then use ancillary data of subjects’ matches to the voter rolls that lets us refine the study population to one with low rates of outcome mismeasurement.

Jun 10, 2022 4:00 PM — 5:00 PM


Aaron Schein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics and the Data Science Institute at the University of Chicago. His research develops statistical models and computational methods to analyze modern large-scale data in political science, economics, and genetics, among other fields in the social and natural sciences.