Rob Horowitz: Get Out the Vote
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
With the arrival of election day, comes a full day of media speculation on the impact of campaign get-out-the-vote operations - terms such as "ground game" and "turn-out operation" will be thrown around loosely and nearly always without meaningful definition.
The goal of get-out-the-vote efforts is to get people who are likely to vote for your candidate -- but not necessarily inclined or able to get to polls -- to the polls. This effort begins well before election day with campaigns identifying these voters. While for whom one votes is a secret, how regularly one votes is public information available to campaigns. In this year's presidential campaign, infrequent voters -- people who voted in the last Presidential election, but did not vote in the 2010 mid-term election for example -- are top targets. Scarce campaign resources yield the most bang for the buck when directed at supporters who may or may not vote, rather than to remind people who vote regularly in every election to vote. These regular voters are going to come to the polls whether they are reminded to vote or not.
Campaigns use similar techniques to identify people who are definite supporters or inclined to vote their way. This is done at the individual-voter level through a combination of party affiliation information; research on consumer preferences that correlate strongly with vote choice known as micro-targeting; and voter identification phone banks and door knocking in which people are asked directly for whom they plan to vote.
Effective get-out-the-vote efforts are done through truly persuasive messages delivered multiple times. Research shows that it takes up to eight contacts to persuade someone not inclined to vote to change their behavior and go to the polls. The most successful operations employ opinion leaders or navigators -- the one out of ten of us who tell the rest of us where to shop, which new restaurants to try, and for whom to vote -- to contact people in their circle of influence. When it comes to voting, one is much more likely to listen to a friend or someone who shares their interest than someone they don’t know.
The most effective get-out-the-vote contact remains a personal conversation often had by knocking on someone’s door. Campaigns also employ phone calls, direct mail and email as ways to persuade people to vote. This year, social networks are becoming an important venue for get-out-the-vote operations as campaigns work hard to shape and influence the conversations occurring online.
Election day is the culmination of these long-underway efforts where campaigns make their final reminders. As the day unfolds, special emphasis will be placed on targeted individuals who have yet to come to the polls. Campaigns will have poll checkers at polling places to mark off supporters as they vote so last-minute door knocks and phone calls can be devoted to people who have yet to vote. In down-ballot races, where candidates are not as well known, these efforts are supplemented by volunteers handing out literature and holding signs at polling places, hoping to provide some last-minute persuasion
These get-out-the-vote efforts require strong organizational skills and committed volunteers. A salute goes out to all the folks volunteering their time today. No matter who they are supporting, they are fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens and their hard work serves the cause of our democracy.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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