I’m not exactly amazing at small talk. Starting conversations is hard and scary and it sometimes feels impossible to land on the right icebreaker. Which is probably how I found myself starting a conversation at a social event by asking “Are you registered to vote?” I am, unfortunately, not exaggerating.
After getting clarification that I was, in fact, asking about his voter registration status over fajitas, my conversation partner got surprisingly animated. He told me he was registered, where he was registered, and that he planned to vote. We talked a little bit about some of the issues we cared about and then segued into more traditional conversational topics like work, school, and how delicious fajitas are.
While my voter registration icebreaker was purely reflexive. Studies have shown that talking about voting makes people more likely to vote. People are social creatures that want to join in when everyone else is doing something. Talking about voting can make your conversation partners more likely to vote because they know that other people are voting. Voting becomes what all the ‘cool kids’ are doing.
The good news is, you don’t even have to talk to strangers over fajitas. Ask your friends, parents, friends’ parents, and parents’ friends if they plan to vote. Encourage them to double-check their registration. Gently remind them when Election Day is (it’s November 6th by the way), or offhandedly mention that you’re mailing in your absentee ballot. Post selfies with your “I Voted!” sticker and make everyone jealous of how cool you look. Gentle nudging texts are also on the table.
As a completely unscientific example, I talk about voting a lot and most of the people I know are regular voters. In the months leading up to elections, in between getting excited about our favorite television shows and stressed about deadlines for school and work, my friends and I swap links to information about candidates and issues. While I can’t take full credit for my friends’ voting behavior and the sample is small and unrepresentative, the collection of post-voting selfies I get texted around every election suggest that my poking and prodding has at least had some impact.
Talking about voting is one of the easiest ways to get involved because it’s a tactic that can be added seamlessly into your daily life. Just drop a quick “Are you planning to vote?” in your next conversational lull or make plans to grab a bite after hitting the polls. It’s a small, subtle way to help someone make a commitment to get engaged in the process. And remember, the next time you have to make small talk: asking about voting probably won’t make things any more awkward than they already are. And, if all else fails, you can talk about how good fajitas are.