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Get Out the Vote

Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout

Donald P. Green
Alan S. Gerber
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 3
Pages: 260
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    Get Out the Vote
    Book Description:

    The most important element in every election is getting voters to the polls-these get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts make the difference between winning and losing office.

    With the first two editions ofGet Out the Vote, Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber broke ground by introducing a new scientific approach to the challenge of voter mobilization that profoundly influenced how campaigns operate.Get Out the Votehas become the reference text for those who manage campaigns and study voter mobilization.

    In this expanded and updated edition, Green and Gerber incorporate data from more than 100 new studies, which shed new light on the costeffectiveness and efficiency of various campaign tactics, including door-todoor canvassing, email, direct mail, and telephone calls. Two new chapters focus on the effectiveness of registration drives and messaging tactics.

    The newGet Out the Votewill be available as the country gears up for the 2016 presidential campaign. This readable, practical guide on voter mobilization is sure to be an important resource for consultants, candidates, and grassroots organizations, as well as a valuable teaching tool in courses on campaigns and elections.

    Praise for Previous Editions:

    "Green and Gerber have studied turnout for years. Their findings, based on dozens of controlled experiments done as part of actual campaigns, are summarized in...Get Out the Vote, which is bound to become a bible for politicians and activists of all stripes." -Alan Krueger in theNew York Times"Get Out the Voteshatters conventional wisdom about GOTV." -Hal Malchow inCampaigns and Elections"Green and Gerber's recent book represents important innovations in the study of turnout." -Political Science Review"Green and Gerber have provided a valuable resource for grassroots campaigns across the spectrum." -National Journal

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2685-2
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vi-vii)
  3. Preface (pp. viii-xiii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Why Voter Mobilization Matters (pp. 1-10)

    The United States has the busiest election calendar on earth. Thanks to the many layers of federal, state, and local government, Americans have more opportunities to vote each decade than Britons, Germans, or Japanese have in their lifetimes. Thousands of Americans seek elective office each year, running for legislative, judicial, and administrative posts.

    Given the frequency with which elections occur and the mundane quality of most of the contests, those who write about elections tend to focus exclusively on the high-visibility contests for president, senator, or governor. This focus gives a distorted impression of how election battles are typically waged....

  5. CHAPTER TWO Evidence versus Received Wisdom (pp. 11-20)

    It is not hard to find advice about how to run an effective get-out-the-vote campaign. The Democratic National Committee recommends, “If your GOTV resources allow you to do only one thing, do telephones. Telephones offer the greatest coverage with the smallest expenditure of resources.”¹ In a rare show of bipartisan agreement, the Republican National Committee concurs that “Election Day phoning can often mean the difference between victory and defeat” but also explains to its organizers that “tried and true methods of street campaigning where candidates ‘press the flesh’ in door-to-door activity, voter blitzes, business tours, in-home receptions, and the like...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Door-to-Door Canvassing (pp. 21-38)

    Visiting voters at their homes was once the bread and butter of party mobilization, particularly in urban areas. Ward leaders made special efforts to canvass their neighborhoods, occasionally calling in favors or offering small financial incentives to ensure that their constituents delivered their votes on Election Day. Petty corruption was rife, but turnout rates were high, even in relatively poor neighborhoods.

    With the decline of patronage politics and the rise of technologies that sharply reduced the cost of phone calls and mass mailings, shoe leather politics gradually faded away. The shift away from door-to-door canvassing occurred not because this type...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Leaflets and Signage (pp. 39-50)

    Leafleting is a get-out-the-vote tactic that shares much in common with door-to-door canvassing. Teams of canvassers comb neighborhoods, dropping literature at the doorstep (or inside the screen door) of targeted households. Like door-to-door canvassing, leafleting requires you to recruit and manage a pool of canvassers and to deal with the vagaries of bad weather, confusing street maps, and menacing dogs. But leafleting is easier, faster, and considerably less demanding than door-to-door canvassing. Just about anyone can do it, even those too shy to knock on doors. Leaflets can be distributed at just about any time of day, which vastly increases...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Direct Mail (pp. 51-63)

    Just as commercial direct mail enables vendors of all sizes to distribute advertising to large numbers of households, political direct mail permits a campaign of any size to contact large numbers of registered voters with a small investment of time and staff. Direct mail requires no recruiting of volunteers and no battles with inclement weather. With direct mail, much of the work can be done well in advance of the election, and a few paid professionals can be employed to design, print, and distribute the mailings.

    Although the administrative burdens of direct mail are minimal, the cost of preparation, printing,...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Commercial Phone Banks, Volunteer Phone Banks, and Robo Calls (pp. 64-86)

    You know them, you hate them: unsolicited telephone calls, typically occurring while you are eating dinner, bathing the kids, or settling down to relax for the evening. Phone calls from survey takers, telemarketers, or even campaign volunteers are rarely welcome. Nevertheless, every election year vast quantities of time and money are devoted to get-out-the-vote phone calls, some by paid professional callers, some by volunteers and paid campaign staff, and some by phone banks conveying prerecorded messages. Opinions about the effectiveness of phone calls vary widely. Some campaign experts regard them as an indispensable ingredient of a successful campaign, while others...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Electronic Mail, Social Media, and Text Messaging (pp. 87-101)

    Every new form of communication technology opens new opportunities for mobilizing voters. The explosive growth of the Internet has drawn an increasing number of Americans into the world of electronic mail. According to national surveys, 87 percent of the population used the Internet in 2014, up from 61 percent in 2003.¹ E-mail usage has become more or less universal, and social networking sites such as Facebook regularly attract three-quarters of the adult population.²

    From the vantage point of campaigns, communicating with voters via e-mail or social media channels has three attractive properties, at least in principle. First, if a group...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Using Events to Draw Voters to the Polls (pp. 102-113)

    It is the rare campaigner who looks forward to the prospect of calling and canvassing for weeks on end. Even people who genuinely love to talk with voters blanch at the prospect of contacting several hundred households. At the same time, most people who enjoy politics and political organizing relish the prospect of coordinating and attending campaign events.

    Campaign events may take many forms. Events such as Election Day festivals attract potential voters by turning the polls into social gathering places. Forums and debates attract potential voters by bringing them into close contact with candidates, perhaps providing an opportunity for...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Using Mass Media to Mobilize Voters (pp. 114-129)

    The three traditional forms of mass media—television, radio, newspapers—have long been staples of both campaign craft and social science inquiry. Presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial campaigns spend enormous resources trying to reach voters through paid advertisements and so-called earned media, such as public appearances and announcements that attract news coverage. For decades social scientists have studied the ways in which these campaigns are shaped by efforts to attract media attention and by the ways, in turn, that voters are influenced by what they see, hear, and read. During the 1930s, at the dawn of modern social science, teams of...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Voter Registration and Voter Turnout (pp. 130-140)

    One of the practical questions that confronts any campaign seeking to increase turnout is whether to devote resources to voter registration. For decades scholars and campaign professionals have opined on this question, offering advice ranging from an emphatic yes to an emphatic no. Those offering an emphatic yes argue that 85 percent of those who are registered vote in a presidential election, whereas no unregistered people vote. They reason that registration is simply an impediment to voting. Eliminate the hurdle of registration, and the formerly unregistered will vote at the same high rates that registered voters do. Those offering an...

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN Strategies for Effective Messaging (pp. 141-154)

    In previous chapters, we organized our discussion around the channels through which your campaign might communicate with voters—door-to-door canvassing, phone calls, mail, and so forth. In this chapter, we consider what you might say to voters once you have reached them. What kinds of appeals get people to vote?

    Answers to this question draw inspiration from social psychology and behavioral economics, academic fields in which researchers study the way people process information, take cues from others, and evaluate alternative courses of action. In recent years, the question of how to increase voter turnout has attracted the attention of a...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next (pp. 155-184)

    The scores of experiments summarized in this book provide a useful reality check for anyone seeking to launch or evaluate a voter mobilization campaign. When we began our experimental research in 1998, we were struck by the fact that even people running very expensive campaigns were operating on little more than their own intuition about what worked. The academic literature in existence at that time was little help. Experimental studies were rare, and the ones that found their way into print reported what we now know to be outlandish findings. One study, based on a few dozen voters, purported to...

  16. APPENDIX A Meta-Analysis of Door-to-Door Canvassing Experiments (pp. 185-188)
  17. APPENDIX B Meta-Analysis of Direct Mail Experiments (pp. 189-192)
  18. APPENDIX C Meta-Analysis of Phone-Calling Experiments (pp. 193-196)
  19. Notes (pp. 197-216)
  20. Index (pp. 217-225)
  21. Back Matter (pp. 226-226)