“I will apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote.”
–Sen. Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz is struggling in Iowa. In a last-ditch effort to shame voters into turning out to caucus for him in today’s primary, Cruz sent out fraudulent mailers intended to use social pressure to get voters to the polls. Once the backlash against these mailers began, Cruz doubled down and refused to apologize for misleading voters.
While Cruz isn’t the first to use “social pressure” to increase turnout, he has broken new ground in how low a candidate is willing to go.
In a 2008 Yale study, political scientists found that mailers sent to Michigan voters in 2006 were most effective when they used social pressure to increase turnout. If a person thought that their neighbors would know whether or not they voted, they were much more likely to get to the polls.
Unlike the mailers from the study and other examples from campaigns like that of his opponent Marco Rubio, Cruz’ mailers implement tactics that are especially ugly and, according to the co-author of one of Cruz’ favorite political science books, a departure from what most political scientists deem acceptable.
Just what makes these mailers so bad? Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist and co-author of “The Gamble,” explained to The New Yorker:
- “In the political-science work published in the American Political Science Review, the mailing listed the elections (three of them) in which voters’ histories were being observed—and listed whether the secretary of state recorded that the voter participated that year. So it was more transparent than the Cruz mailer, which implied that it used public records but delivered voters letter grades, which are not part of the official file.”
The grades, which were listed for the voters’ neighbors by name, were completely made up. The New Yorker found that the mailers all featured the same three possible scores (75%, 65%, and 55%) and, for some, everyone in their neighborhood had received a failing grade.
One of the Iowans receiving the mailer was Dave Peterson, a political scientist who moved to Iowa in 2009. He told The New Yorker and Mother Jones what made the scores so suspicious:
- “There are other people listed on my mailer who live in my neighborhood that are all different ages, but everyone on this sheet has the same score of fifty-five per cent. Some are significantly younger and would have not been eligible to vote in these elections, and others are older and have voted consistently, going back years. There is no way to get to us all having the same score.”
Not only were the voting “grades” completely inaccurate, they were presented as data from the Iowa Secretary of State based on “publicly available information.” This is a blatant lie. The Secretary of State does not grade voters’ participation, and there is no such thing as a “voting violation” based on whether or not a voter participates in an election. Finally, while a voter’s registration is public information, whether or not they have actually voted is information that is only available for political purposes to campaigns or other political organizations who pay to have access to the voter file.
These mailers are just one more example of how far Ted Cruz will go to get what he wants. He is willing to mislead, manipulate, and outright lie to Iowans (and voters everywhere) if it means that he can win the GOP nomination.