Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo today, in recognition of his four-year effort to guide peace negotiations with Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC. The October announcement about the prize came just days after Colombians rejected a referendum on the historic peace agreement to end the armed conflict that has plagued the country for half a century. In late November, the two sides pushed through a revised peace deal addressing some of the concerns of those who voted against the referendum. Santos avoided another referendum by getting the senate and the lower house to approve the new pact. The outcomes of referendums — whether in Colombia, or the June Brexit vote or December’s Italian referendum — make it clear that getting people to vote for government initiatives is harder than one would expect.
Our research, conducted shortly before the October vote in Colombia, shows that one way to increase support among voters is to stress the opportunities that the proposed initiatives would bring, rather than underscoring the risks associated with its failure. Our study reveals that Colombians were more likely to support the agreement if they read positive messages that framed the peace deal as an opportunity for change. This was true particularly when these messages were backed by an actor that the public can hold accountable, such as the government.
As several commentators highlighted, information on the 300-page peace deal played a key role in driving the results of Colombia’s Oct. 2 referendum. To test the impact of information on people’s attitudes and voting intentions, we conducted an experiment in the short time frame between the signature of the peace agreement in Cartagena (Sept. 26, 2016) and the day of the plebiscite (Oct. 2, 2016). We fielded responses online, using a sample of 669 eligible Colombian voters. Our participants had a higher level of education than the average and included a larger share of yes voters compared to the actual outcome on Oct. 2.