The Most Successful Get Out the Vote Program Tactics

Alan Gerber and Donald Green’s book, Get Out the Vote, is a rigorous, research-based approach to validating various voter registration and GOTV (Get Out the Vote) drives. The authors conducted their experiments over several years in federal midterm elections, state and municipal elections, the 2000 presidential election, and various nonpartisan voter mobilization efforts.

More than 29 findings were ranked on a three-star system. A tactic that received a three-star rating was deemed most effective, meaning that the finding was implemented with a large number of voters and implemented by different groups in a variety of settings.

The findings in Gerber and Green’s research can help us develop realistic expectations about our campaigns. They cite the most effective tactics as well as the cost-effectiveness of those tactics.

1. Personal contact is important. Door-to-door canvassing is a much better tactic of getting out the vote than Internet messaging, according to Gerber and Green. They found that knocking on doors drove up voter turnout by 8 to 10 percent, while leaflets, direct mail, and e-mail yielded increases of less than 1 percent. In fact, they found that one additional vote is produced for every 14 people who are contacted by volunteer canvassers.

While it’s probably not practical for your association to go door-to-door, you should consider what your organization is doing to increase the personal contact with those
individuals you want to get to the polls. The turnout of the “values – driven” voters in the 2004 presidential election has caused many to take notice of their tactics. While they used many tactics for voter registration and GOTV, an immutable characteristic of this group is their personal contact through church and religious events that go beyond asking someone to make sure she votes.

In an organizational setting, you can set up voter registration booths with real people to answer questions. You can also appoint GOTV or voter registration captains who can wear a lapel pin or promotional T-shirt to publicize your effort and encourage conversation and follow-up activity. Research from a BIPAC post-election survey showed that in a recent Ohio election, more than 50 percent of the voters who were personally contacted by a labor union representative voted.

The demonstrated effects of door-to-door canvassing suggest that other face-to-face tactics may stimulate better turnout. When candidates visit your facility, encourage one-on-one interaction between candidates and your members and leadership. Make sure that your captains help facilitate personal contact with the candidate. Ask them to serve as hosts to introduce employees and association members to the candidate.

2. Ask for commitment from potential voters. Commitment coincides with the influence principle of consistency. Humans have a natural drive to be consistent with prior statements and commitments, particularly if those statements and commitments are made in public. Gerber and Green found that the message does not matter as much as asking citizens whether they can be counted on to vote and providing them with the location of their polling place. They claim that they have not isolated these factors with great precision, but “they seem to be worth incorporating into most canvassing campaigns.” Engage the consistency principle by asking potential voters if they will vote on Election Day.

3. Assess behavioral change. An association’s final arbiter of a successful voter registration effort is voter behavior. Do you know if your members are even considering a candidate’s position on your issues when they enter the voting booth?

When I led the Nationwide Insurance Civic Action Program (CAP), we compared the voting behavior of the employees who enrolled in our grassroots program versus those of the employees who were not CAP members. It was gratifying to learn that 69 percent of the CAP members took into consideration a candidate’s position on insurance issues in the voting booth. Even 50 percent of the nonmembers examined a candidate’s insurance views before they voted. I suspect most organizations would covet half of their employees being so informed.

Why did they think about issues that impacted their job before voting? Because we had in place a consistent grassroots communications and social capitol structure. Discussion of civic and legislative issues was encouraged and vigorously facilitated. I consider this one of the most valuable benefits of an internal grassroots program. When our grassroots communications are affecting voting behavior, we are truly making a difference.