Get Out The Vote efforts.

Three Calls

I was called twice this evening by live Massa volunteers reminding me to get out and vote tomorrow. I also got a robo-call from Bill Clinton, sponsored by the DCCC, telling me to be sure to fill in my entire ballot.


Get out the vote (GOTV) efforts often talk about how many times the campaign "touches" a voter. Here's how I've been "touched" in the last week:

  • I've received three anti-Kuhl mailers from the DCCC. They are all essentially the same as this one, concentrating on jobs lost because of trade agreements.
  • I've gotten two robo-calls from "Accountable America". The first one pointed out that Kuhl received $300K from investment bankers and CEOs that caused the financial meltdown. The second concentrated on money Kuhl has taken from lobbyists. Both ended by urging me to call Congressman Kuhl and ask him what he would do to save Social Security.

Neither of these touches is very high-quality. In 2006, I wrote about a study that showed that the most effective GOTV efforts relied on human contact. There's been none of that so far in the 29th.

Perhaps the least effective "touch" I saw this week was targeted at Republicans on my street. On Saturday, a windy and rainy day, someone hung literature packets from mailbox flags. The wind soon blew them away and the street was littered with plastic bags containing sodden campaign fliers. Unfortunately, a lot of money spent in campaigns goes to wasted efforts like that one.

Evening News: More Suffering, Endorsements, Calls

The 13-WHAM has posted their story about Kuhl's "suffer" comment.

Reader Tom sends the City Newspaper endorsement of Eric Massa. City also has a profile of the 29th race.

Finally, Tom also sent this item from Politico which contains an e-mail soliciting DC-area Republicans to make phone bank calls. Randy Kuhl makes the top ten, with 338 calls.

Lack of Coattails

I'm on the Obama mailing list, and last night they sent me an email (embedded below) urging me to vote for Eric Massa.

That's about all the help Massa can expect from the Obama campaign, which isn't spending much in sure-win New York. That's unfortunate for Massa, because Obama is deploying the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation in recent Democratic history.

Similarly, Randy Kuhl can expect little help from the cash-strapped McCain campaign, which conceded New York before the election started.

According to independent polls, Obama and McCain are running neck-and-neck in the 29th, which is a switch from 2004, when Bush took the district by 14 points. But without a GOTV effort from either campaign, neither Congressional candidate will be riding coattails.

The Most Important Election Day Factor

Barring the discovery of one of the candidates in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, it's all down to turnout.  Kuhl has the 72 hour strategy, and Massa has his grassroots network of volunteers.  Both efforts pale in comparison to the weather.

The forecast for Tuesday is the same in the North and the South:  High 55, showers possible.  At this point, it looks like weather won't be an major issue.

GOTV Evidence

Reader Jack writes to inform us that the Massa Campaign, MoveOn and the DNC are running a targeted GOTV effort in Henrietta, concentrating on registered Democrats who don't vote regularly.  Anyone interested in this effort can meet tonight (10/30) or tomorrow night (10/31) at 7 p.m. at the Apollo Restaurant, 2091 East Henrietta Rd.

I've done this kind of stuff before.  It's hard work, and I have a soft spot for anyone who does it.  If you have a unique, not otherwise publicized GOTV effort for either candidate, feel free to send it in. I'll pimp it to my massive readership. As long as your realize that by "massive", I mean "tiny". 

Hillary's $10 Million

Hillary Clinton spent $10.1 million in the last quarter, $7 million of that in the last month alone, the most of any Senate candidate.  Much of that money is going to a "get-out-the-vote operation that we think is going to work for Democratic candidates throughout the state," according to her spokeswoman.  I posted about her GOTV effort earlier.  This is evidence that it is real.


Reader Anne writes to recommend an article about the Working Families Party's GOTV efforts.  The WFP has decided to target "blanks" or unaffiliated voters in three Northeast Congressional districts, including the 29th.  WFP internal polls show that these voters are receptive to the WFP's progressive message, which includes universal health care and opposition to free trade.

New York is one of the few states where candidates run on multiple party lines.  Eric Massa is running on the Working Families Party line as well as the Democratic line. 

I'm skeptical that unaffiliated voters, who have shown that they're not committed to the center-left Democrats, will be more receptive to the farther left message of WFP.  But GOTV is GOTV, and Massa can use anything he can get.  The downside of the WFP effort is that it is all direct mail in the 29th.  Direct mail is less effective than the canvassing and phone banks that WFP will use to support candidates in two other districts.

GOTV by Party

In the last post on GOTV, I reviewed the research on effective techniques.  The short answer is that the more personal the technique, the more effective it is.  So how are Kuhl and Massa's GOTV efforts stacking up?

The Massa campaign tends to live "out loud" on the Internet, so we can see that they've gotten the message about canvassing.  Last week, they began door-to-door efforts in Monroe and Ontario counties.  These counties are the newest addition to the 29th and residents there are probably the least acquainted with either candidate.   The Massa campaign is clearly doing their best with their limited resources.  If they receive some help from the Spitzer and Clinton campaigns, they might be able to have a GOTV effort that yields results next month.

Since the Kuhl campaign has a much less active Internet presence, we have to infer their plans from national Republican GOTV stories.  The Republican strategy, called the 72-Hour program, is the result of years of research by Republicans.  The GOP believes that they know the right mix of direct mail, phone contact and door-to-door solicitation that will turn out their base.  Republicans also tend to spend more on GOTV than Democrats, and they start earlier to make sure absentee voters cast their ballots.

The GOP honed their GOTV effort in last month's Rhode Island primary. Using a combination of microtargeting -- careful identification of sub-groups -- along with a large number of paid professionals brought in from out-of-state, Lincoln Chafee was able to beat back a strong primary challenge.   Republicans viewed this election as a dry run for November.

The Kuhl campaign has the potential of using the most sophisticated GOTV template in the business, but in a tough year, it's not clear what kind of resources they'll get to run the 72-Hour plan in the 29th.

The Art and Science of GOTV

Like most truisms, "it's all about turnout" is overused and undervalued. In the 29th, this is especially true. Since GOTV is so important in the 29th, I want to take an in-depth look at what's known about GOTV, beginning with "the book" on GOTV, Get Out the Vote! - How to Increase Voter Turnout.

GOTV! summarizes major recent research of the late '90s and early 2000s. It looks at partisan and non-partisan GOTV efforts, and it tries to assign a price per vote on common GOTV efforts.

The first interesting fact about GOTV studies is that there aren't many of them. Most campaigns don't want to be part of an experiment where half of the potential voters who serve as a control aren't contacted. The other interesting fact is that campaigns spend a lot of money on technologies, like robo-calls, that aren't very effective.

The main conclusion of this book is twofold: Personal approaches are more effective than impersonal ones, but personal approaches are harder to replicate on a large scale.

So, not surprisingly, the studies reviewed in the book find that the most effective approach is door-to-door canvassing. It's interesting that it really doesn't seem to matter what the canvassers say, as long as they meet a minimum level of competence. It's all in the personal contact, which puts a face on the campaign of one of the candidates.

The downside of knocking on doors is that eligible voters are hard to find, and that it's hard to find the teams of volunteers, or hard to manage paid canvassers. Canvassing is also hard to scale - you can contact a few thousand voters this way, but getting to hundreds of thousands of voters is much more difficult.

Leaving leaflets (such as door hangers), the poor cousin of canvassing, is less effective than direct personal contact, but partisan leaflets have been shown to increase turnout by a small but statistically significant amount.

Methods that don't involve feet on the street still have some effect, but that effect is again proportional to the personal contact. The effectiveness of phone banks seems to be directly related to how "conversational" the contact is. If the script is carefully constructed to solicit interaction with the person being called, and if the volunteer or professional making the call takes time to slowly and carefully go through the script, phone banks can have some effect.

Robo-calling, which is impersonal and non-conversational, was shown to have little or no effect. Repeated calling doesn't seem to work well either, and calls are more effective if they're closer to the election.

Direct mail is even less effective than phone banks, and it is the least effective with marginal voters. The partisan base can be motivated by direct mail, but even so, it is expensive.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book was the price-per-vote summary. Canvassing costs approximately $19/vote, using contract labor. Obviously, free labor is cheaper, making volunteer canvassing the cheapest known way for a campaign to increase its vote tally. Leafleting may be a bit cheaper ($14/vote) to motivate a partisan base, but further study is needed to confirm that as fact.

Volunteer telephone banks cost about $35/vote, assuming that the volunteers are well-supervised and use a good script. Professional calls with long scripts and good supervision cost about $45/vote, but low-quality professional calls can cost upwards of $200/vote. Robo calls don't work, so cost per vote can't be calculated.

Direct mail costs $59/vote when addressed to base voters, but $200/vote when directed to sporatic voters. Email doesn't work (no surprise there).

What I take home from this study is that it isn't money alone that gets out the vote. Campaigns can spend a lot of money with little or no effect. To get out the vote effectively, campaigns must plan well in advance and have enough staff to coordinate expensive GOTV efforts.

With the "scientific" base of GOTV covered, the next GOTV post will examine how the campaigns in the 29th will turn out voters next month.

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