Door-to-door efforts work best in getting out the vote, say Yale political scientists

Yale University Professors Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber offer a practical guide to mobilize voters, in their new book “Get Out the Vote!,” to be released April 30 by the Brookings Institution.

Voter participation in the United States is dismal: The U.S. has the second lowest voter turnout of any western democracy, with barely half of the eligible electorate voting in presidential elections, and roughly one-third participating at the state and local level-despite the fact that many municipal elections are decided by only a few hundred votes.

Green and Gerber's research, based on randomized experiments conducted in political campaigns in a dozen states since 1998, shows that not all popular get-out-the-vote tactics are as effective as once believed. Using rigorous methodology that gauge the impact of each mobilization effort as it happens, they estimate the financial cost for each vote produced by door-to-door canvassing, distribution of leaflets, direct mail, phone banks and e-mail.

Their findings indicate that old-fashioned one-on-one politicking is surprisingly successful and affordable. According to Green and Gerber, the quality of contact is critical. Personal outreach to potential voters, involving longer and more engaged conversations, produces better results than more impersonal efforts, such as recorded phone messages and leaflets.

Written for campaign professionals and grassroots organizers as well as students of the political system, “Get Out the Vote!” is an essential handbook for putting campaign research into practice and improving civic participation in U.S. elections.

Green is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of Political Science and director of Yale's Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS). Gerber is a professor of political science and affiliated with the ISPS. Both have written extensively on campaigns, elections and research methods.

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