How behavioral science techniques shaped the 2012 election

  • By Barry Fischer
  • November 16, 2012

The New York Times detailed this week how the Obama Administration’s successful re-election campaign was built upon a range of well-implemented behavioral science principles.

The story caught our attention because many of these principles are akin to the approaches that Opower uses to empower and motivate households to become more energy-efficient.

Take for example, the technique of goal-setting and commitments to bring about action.  Similar to how Opower enables utility customers to set and track toward personal energy-savings goals, the Obama campaign reportedly “asked would-be voters if they would sign an informal commitment to vote.”

Also to boost voter turnout, Obama staff and volunteers drew upon the established behavioral psychology concepts of “social proof” (i.e. your neighbors are voting, so you should vote too) and “making a concrete plan” (i.e. asking prospective voters what time of day they planned to vote, so as to mentally cement the upcoming action and increase its probability). Opower draws upon variations of both of these strategies to guide people toward adopting energy efficiency in their own homes.

See the recent piece from the New York Times for more examples of how Opower-style behavioral science was woven into the 2012 campaign season.

About Outlier

Outlier explores trends in how people are using energy in the US and around the world. Pulling from an unprecedented (and still growing) amount of energy data—currently drawn from 50 million homes—Opower crunches energy-use information from more than 90 utility partners every day, and cross-references that with weather, household, and demographic information to produce compelling analyses in the Outlier series.