Don't talk about those unpaid bills

Compared with those who received the basic information, people who saw or heard the rhetoric about financial insecurity were 24 percent to 45 percent less likely to become donors if they actually or potentially faced that insecurity. They also gave 20 percent to 58 percent less money on average. Yet when they saw or heard information that was not directly about household finances, their donations did not decrease (and in some cases increased).

It was not that these people were unwilling to donate money to political activity in general. Many of those facing economic insecurity are far from poor, and have at least some discretionary income. But the appeals that specifically reminded them of their own financial constraints reduced their willingness to donate.

Better-off people, who were not worried about their personal finances, responded altogether differently. When they received information about economic insecurity, they were 23 percent more likely to become donors and they donated 48 percent more money, on average, than those who received only the basic information. For them, concern about the issue did motivate action.