If you are one of the many staring out your office window and wondering, why people, and groups of them, are staring at their phones and pointing it at a random sign, fountain, or building with so much eagerness, well, you are not alone. The answer is ‘Pokémon Go.’ This craze has been taking over lives, been the source behind many entertaining memes, and been popular marketing discussion as to the future of augmented reality and the implications for brands. There has even been talk that Pokémon Go has been more effective in getting people off the couch than other more targeted fitness campaigns.
This campaign has legs – including those legs of all the players in the world – excited to actively explore the world outside and around them. This has our team at FMG thinking, with an election year just around the corner, would gamifying elections or making them a PokéStop get-out-the-vote (GOTV), particularly among youth voters? The bigger question, how could this concept benefit the federal sector, or drive behavior change that is so incredibly important?
Hypothesis : If Pokémon Go is a useful GOTV tool then turnout should increase as a result of strategic Pokémon placement at polling locations.
However, an increase in turnout among Pokémon players, or those who fit the player profile, doesn’t actually tell us whether or not the effort was a success. There are any number of reasons that turnout might be higher this election compared to previous. In fact, some of the same psychological or economic factors that make Pokémon so appealing (for example bleak job prospects or a need for social connection) might also motivate people to vote. To really know if a campaign had an impact, we must have a strategy that lets us rule out alternative explanations for the result.
The most straightforward way to isolate the effect of a behavioral intervention is with an experiment. For the Pokémon GOTV campaign this would mean putting Pokémon’s at some randomly selected voting precincts and making sure they were not available at others. In theory, any difference in turnout between Pokémon and non- Pokémon precincts could be attributed to our GOTV campaign. Unfortunately, there are some real world challenges that complicate this intuitively simple experimental strategy.
With any effort to promote behavior change, it is important to carefully consider the potential tradeoffs and unintended consequences.
- You may be able to keep Pokémon away from some polling places, but you can’t keep players away from the game; so instead of the Pokémon GOTV experiment getting more people to the polls, it might actually reduce turnout by distracting players who might otherwise be voting.
- We might still see higher turnout in Pokémon precincts, but only because players from other jurisdictions are being drawn to polling places where they might catch a Pokémon, but can’t cast a ballot.
- The largescale mobilization of a particular subpopulation of voters—relatively young, affluent and, therefore, likely Democratic leaning Pokémon players—could not just increase turnout but potentially affect the outcome of an election.
Tell us! If Pikachu was at your polling place, would you go vote? Give us your opinion on Twitter.