NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 14, 2004

What is the best way to increase voter turnout? Two Yale political scientists, Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber, have studied turnout for years. Their findings, based on dozens of controlled experiments done as part of actual campaigns, are summarized in their new book, "Get Out the Vote!" Their conclusion is that getting out the vote is difficult and costly; only money spent wisely has a noticeable effect.

Which method yields the highest payoff in additional votes per dollar spent? Here are some of their main conclusions.

Door-to-door canvassing, though expensive, yields the most votes:

  • As a rule of thumb, one additional vote is cast from each 14 people contacted.
  • That works out to somewhere between $7 and $19 a vote, depending on the pay of canvassers.
  • Canvassers who matched the ethnic profile of their assigned neighborhoods were more successful.

The effect of leaflets on turnout is less clear:

  • Results from two partisan campaigns indicate that one vote was generated for every 66 leaflets hung on doors.
  • In another experiment, just one vote was added for every 200 nonpartisan leaflets.
  • Over all, leafletting costs $14 to $42 a vote.

What are the likely implications for turnout on Nov. 2? Although the precise figure is not known, it is possible that as much as $200 million more will be spent on voter mobilization by all parties in 2004 than in 2000. Green says a reasonable assumption is that one additional vote will be generated from every $50 spent on the mobilization methods that will be used.

Source: Alan B. Krueger, "Turning Out the Vote," New York Times, October 14, 2004.

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