Racine, WI: I’ve been told that the Republican Party has conducted
more than 50 randomized experiments to test which methods and
messages most efficiently persuade people to vote. My organization,
CIRCLE, has also funded and collected such randomized
field tests, although we are a nonprofit organization, so we can
only test completely neutral, non-partisan messages ("Vote for
someone this fall").
In a true experiment, you don’t just ask people to vote, check whether
they do, and count each vote as a success. That would be a flawed methodology,
since many people would have voted even if you hadn’t asked them. Instead,
in a true experiment, you divide the population randomly into
two groups, ask one group to vote, and leave the other group alone.
Your success rate is the difference in turnout between the two groups.
CIRCLE-sponsored experiments have found that some strategies cause many
young people to vote; some are ineffective; and some promising approaches
actually reduce turnout. I find it fascinating that the GOP is now using
this method for their own planning purposes. It means, first of all,
that a sophisticated academic methodology seems valuable to hard-nosed
political operatives. And second, it means that Republicans are likely
to try to mobilize people through face-to-face contact in 2004. That
is a form of campaigning that increases participation (in contrast to
TV advertising, which is sometimes intended to reduce the opponent’s
turnout). Thus it is is a very beneficial development, although it would
be unfortunate if the Democrats failed to imitate the GOP.
Tuesday, Nov. 18