Reaching Low Propensity Voters

For the 2020 November elections, the state of California will offer several ways to vote. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor and the Legislature have decreed that all registered voters will receive a ballot in the mail, which they can return by mail, at a ballot drop box, or at an in-person voting site. In-person voting options will also be available. Many counties will offer consolidated voting sites for the first-time, some counties will offer their standard polling places, and other counties will offer vote centers as they have previously under the Voter’s Choice Act. The state and counties are currently developing a set of safety requirements for voting sites, including guidelines for maintaining physical distance and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) like a mask or face shield. As of July 31, 2020, the Secretary of State has issued guidance, but county elections officials have yet to reveal the exact procedures and requirements for voting safely in each county.

Whatever changes are implemented to the administration of California elections this November, habitual voters and those voters most targeted by campaigns are likely to stay up-to-date and continue casting their ballots. By contrast, first-time voters and low-propensity voters may be confused or deterred by the complex and changing environment, or otherwise unprepared to participate. Outreach materials and activities should adjust in response.

In partnership with California Common Cause and a community advisory group composed of non-profit organizations conducting civic engagement and GOTV work in a diverse set of California communities, the Center for Social Innovation (CSI-UCR) at University of California, Riverside designed and implemented an accelerated focus group research project to probe awareness of voting options, voting option preferences, and reactions to existing voter messaging materials.

Our aim is threefold. First, we want to gauge the extent to which first-time and low-propensity voters may need targeted outreach to explain the options for voting in the November 2020 elections, and develop insights into how best to reach them. In addition, we want to share the findings we collect with state and local election officials charged with crafting voter outreach and informational materials to be distributed in the summer and fall of 2020. Finally, we want to provide California’s nonprofit civic engagement and GOTV sector with helpful guidance and voter messaging tips.

California Common Cause and CSI-UCR coordinated focus groups with community advisory groups who work closely with low-propensity voters from the following groups: Spanish-speakers, Tagalog-speakers, Mandarin speakers, Korean-speakers, Vietnamese-speakers, Hmong-speakers, and English-speaking youth, many of whom were first-generation voters. Participants ranged in age and represented most major metropolitan areas across California, with greatest concentrations in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Central California, and the Inland Empire.

What motivates people to vote is to seek change, and people want to see change in the community.
18 years old, man, Inland Empire, youth focus group
Voto porque otros no pueden votar. I vote because others can’t.
47 years old, woman, Los Angeles, Spanish language focus group
I think voting is a duty for citizens.
51 years old, woman, Irvine, Mandarin language focus group
Coming from a family that doesn’t want to vote or are scared, scared for their background info to be shared, like taxes, we need more reassurance in our community to understand it’s okay to vote.
18 years old, Alameda, woman, Tagalog/English focus group
... in my Vietnamese community, .... people will follow a person from that community...instead of asking “What kind of information channel should we use?,” we should ask “Who should we use to share this information?” Overall, the important question is: who will be the spokesperson?”
31 years old, Garden Grove, Vietnamese language focus group
Because of COVID-19 happening right now, I will be voting through mail, not in person.
32 years old, woman, Fresno, Hmong language focus group
Drop box itself is a very good idea. Especially when you are leaving in the morning to start your day, you can just drop your ballot on the way saving time, very useful!
52 years old, man, Los Angeles, Korean language focus group
I found those volunteers who work at the voter center very diligent and helpful.
Elder, man, San Francisco, Chinese focus group