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The Impact of Technology on Electoral Participation in South Africa
Last registered on December 02, 2016


Trial Information
General Information
The Impact of Technology on Electoral Participation in South Africa
Initial registration date
December 02, 2016
Last updated
December 02, 2016 1:35 PM EST
Primary Investigator
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Washington
PI Affiliation
Emory University
PI Affiliation
University of California, San Diego
PI Affiliation
University of California, San Diego
Additional Trial Information
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Can new technology be used to improve the quality of democracy by boosting citizen participation? In this paper we report on the VIP:Voice platform, which was constructed to allow South African citizens to engage politically through an ICT platform, to report on political events in their communities, and to monitor their polling places on election day. We sent out over 50 million 'Please Call Me' messages encouraging South Africans to register on the system, and provided a multi-channel platform allowing citizens to engage politically via low-tech mobile phones and high-tech social media. We find starkly different demographic profiles of users across channels, indicating that the success of efforts to overcome marginalization using ICT will be partially determined by the technological channel used. Attrition of users across each step in the engagement process is high, and while thousands of citizens are willing to engage in costly political actions based only on intrinsic motivation, extrinsic incentives induce large increases in participation rates. Using the platform, we were able to recruit citizen volunteers willing to monitor 12 percent of the polling stations in 38 percent of the wards in the country.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Ferree, Karen et al. 2016. "The Impact of Technology on Electoral Participation in South Africa." AEA RCT Registry. December 02. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.1705-1.0.
Former Citation
Ferree, Karen et al. 2016. "The Impact of Technology on Electoral Participation in South Africa." AEA RCT Registry. December 02. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1705/history/12212.
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Experimental Details
Phase 1: Individuals were encouraged to register for the platform and were either required to pay all associated fees (messaging costs, etc.) themselves (standard arm); were promised to have their interaction fees covered (free arm); or were entered into a lottery for R55 when they registered (lottery arm).

Phase 2: All respondents were asked to complete five separate pre-election surveys. Participants completed a brief set of demographic questions, a "What's Up?" survey about local campaign activities; the "VIP" survey which was a standard set of polling questions; a "Push" survey about local political activities; and a "Thermometer" survey about voting intentions.

Phase 3: Individuals who registered as volunteer COs were either offered R5 or R50 as an incentive to complete their tasks. The set of tasks expected of COs involved returning to polling stations on the day after the election to observe whether or not a tally sheet had been posted, to submit information about the tally via SMS, and, if equipped with a phone that could take photos, to take a photograph of the results sheet.

Phase 4: Individuals were reminded to vote with one of three messages: a simple reminder which acted as the control; a reminder plus an 'intrinsic' message which included reference to the "voice" dimension of political participation; or a reminder plus an 'extrinsic' treatment which included a message reminding citizens that their inked finger would show others that they had voted (visibility), designed to activate considerations of social pressure to vote. Two surveys were also given in Phase 4 - one of voter experience at polling stations (with free participation), and a second post-election survey to gauge satisfaction with the electoral process (incentivized with a lottery).
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Political participation, Demographics of participants by platform
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Political participation rates were measured in the absence/presence of extrinsic incentives, and when lotteries versus small expected value transfers were given. Researchers also measured the influence of the different technology platforms on engaging participants.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
Researchers designed and deployed a unique ICT/DM platform to conduct series of experiments during South Africa's 2014 national election. In Phase 1, one month before the election, researchers recruited South African citizens into the ICT/DM platform. In Phase 2, respondents completed a series of demographic and election related surveys. Phase 3 included recruiting a set of volunteers from the initial respondents to serve as Citizen Observers (COs) on voting day. In Phase 4, researchers implemented a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) reminder experiment, accompanied by two surveys.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
50 million initial 'Please Call Me' messages were sent out
Sample size: planned number of observations
50 million
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
50 million individuals initially contacted. Subsequent treatments were randomized once participants opted in.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
Study has received IRB approval. Details not available.
IRB Approval Date
Details not available
IRB Approval Number
Details not available
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
May 07, 2014, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Data Collection Completion Date
May 07, 2014, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
90,646 individuals registered for the platform
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
90,646 individuals registered for the platform
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Phase 1: 90,646 individuals registered for the platform. Phase 2: 34,718 individuals completed a demographic survey. 15,461 individuals completed a demographic survey plus one of the other election related surveys. Phase 3: 41,863 individuals were invited to participate as COs. 2,498 individuals agreed to participate as COs. Phase 4: 77,878 individuals were sent a GOTV message. 5,038 responded to questions on participation. 6,978 supplied information on voter experience.
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
Using Technology to Promote Participation in Emerging Democracies: VIP:Voice and the 2014 South African Election
Ferree, Karen, Clark Gibson, Danielle Jung, James Long and Craig McIntosh. "Using Technology to Promote Participation in Emerging Democracies: VIP:Voice and the 2014 South African Election." Working Paper, November 2015.
Can technology help citizens overcome barriers to participation in emerging democracies? We argue that, by lowering costs, technology brings new participants into the political process. However, by shaping the selection of participants, it also generates a “crowd” that is both more responsive to incentives (malleable) and more sensitive to costs (fragile). We illustrate these dynamics using VIP:Voice, a novel, multi-channel information and communication technology/digital media (ICT/DM) platform that we built to encourage South African political engagement during the 2014 national elections. VIP:Voice recruited South Africans through a variety of methods and allowed citizens to engage via low-tech mobile phones and high-tech social media. VIP:Voice generated engagement in over 250,000 South Africans, but saw large attrition as people were asked to switch from low-cost digital engagement to high-cost, real-world engagement. The implementation of a standard platform across multiple technology channels, combined with a set of experiments in the role incentives play in driving participation, reveal how technology shapes not just the level of participation but the very nature of the crowd that forms.
Ferree, Karen, Clark Gibson, Danielle Jung, James Long and Craig McIntosh. "How Technology Shapes the Crowd: Participation in the 2014 South African Election" Working Paper, April 2016.