Kennedy School Researchers Examine Tactics for Getting Out the Vote

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: 617-495-1115
Date: May 05, 2004

CAMBRIDGE, MA – When it comes to getting out the vote, three mobilization tactics –volunteer phone calls, face-to-face visits, and door hangers with candidate literature – appear to be similarly cost-effective according to a recent study by researchers David King and Ryan Friedrichs of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and David Nickerson of Yale University.
“Mobilizing the Party Faithful: Results from a Statewide Turnout Experiment in Michigan” was published in April on the Kennedy School’s Working Papers website. Though a common perception is that face-to-face contact with potential voters is the most successful “get out the vote” tactic, door hangers were revealed to be a similarly cost-effective method to increase voter turnout in research focusing on the 2002 Michigan gubernatorial election. Though face-to-face contact does appear to boost turnout more than receiving a door hanger, it requires far less time to distribute a door hanger than to make a contact in person. Volunteer phone calls, according to the study, are slightly more cost-effective overall in moving voters to the polls.
“That door hangers are found to be an effective means of boosting turnout is a useful result,” says David King. “In a close election, door hangers are competitive with more personal tactics and can quickly blanket entire neighborhoods. We believe door hangers are useful arrows in a campaign’s quiver.”
“Mobilizing the Party Faithful” is the first study to use large-scale field experiments to examine partisan voter mobilization. In comparison with previous studies, the results suggest that partisan canvassing is at least as effective as non-partisan canvassing.
The study is accessible through the Kennedy School’s Working Papers website:
David C. King is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. David W. Nickerson is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Yale University. Ryan D. Friedrichs worked on these experiments as Masters in Public Policy Student at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.


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