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Comments by YACCS
Monday, October 30, 2006

101 dead, eight days out

She's a Republican, we're going to eat her.

Voter Turnout Myths

by Chris Bowers, Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 01:16:59 PM EST
In a great article in the Washington Post, Professor Michael McDonald tells us about five voter turnout myths that every political junkie should know. Here is the truth behind the CW:

* 1. Voter turnout isn't lower than in previous decades:

Turnout rates among those eligible to vote have averaged 55.3 percent in presidential elections and 39.4 percent in midterm elections for the past three decades. There has been variation, of course, with turnout as low as 51.7 percent in 1996 and rebounding to 60.3 percent by 2004. Turnout in the most recent election, in fact, is on a par with the low-60 percent turnout rates of the 1950s and '60s.

* 2. Citizens of other countries don't vote more regularly than Americans do:

Americans are asked to vote more often -- in national, state, local and primary contests -- than the citizens of any other country. They can be forgiven for missing one or two elections, can't they? Even then, over the course of several elections, Americans have more chances to participate and their turnout may be higher than that in countries where people vote only once every five years.

* 3. Negative ads don't reduce voter turnout.

Negative TV advertising increased in the mid-1980s, but turnout hasn't gone down correspondingly. The negative Swift boat campaign against Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) apparently did little to depress turnout in the 2004 presidential race.

Some academic studies have found that negative advertising increases turnout. And that's not so surprising: A particularly nasty ad grabs people's attention and gets them talking. People participate when they're interested.

* 4. Republican GOTV does not give them a decisive advantage:

Studies of a campaign's personal contact with voters through phone calls, door-to-door solicitation and the like find that it does have some positive effect on turnout. But people vote for many reasons other than meeting a campaign worker, such as the issues, the closeness of the election and the candidates' likeability. Further, these studies focus on get-out-the-vote drives in low-turnout elections, when contacts from other campaigns and outside groups are minimal. We don't know what the effects of mobilization drives are in highly competitive races in which people are bombarded by media stories, television ads and direct mail.

Republican get-out-the-vote efforts could make a difference in close elections if Democrats simply sat on the sidelines. But this year Democrats have vowed to match the GOP mobilization voter for voter. So it'll take more than just knowing whether a prospective voter owns a Volvo or a BMW for Republicans to eke out victory in a competitive race.

* 5. Increased voter registration does not necessarily mean increased voter turnout, but Election Day registration probably does:

Sizable increases in turnout can be seen in states with Election Day registration, which allows people to register when they vote. This may be related to the fact that lots of people don't make up their minds to vote until Election Day, rather than months in advance when they get a license.

Form the perspective of trying to win campaigns, the negative ad myth is the most interesting one to me. It certainly puts more context behind the modern Republican political machine, in that going nuclear on Democrats is actually an essential part of their GOTV. In fact, I bet it was going nuclear on John Kerry via Swift Boating and other tactics that allowed Republican turnout in 2004 to surpass Democratic turnout. Given this, in isolation, I'd bet that the Republican 72-hour program and the Amway-stuff probably wasn't superior to our GOTV operations by much, if at all. What was clearly superior was their messaging to drive up base turnout, with going nuclear on gay marriage and equally nuclear on John Kerry serving as essential factors. This could also explain why Democrats appear more mobilized in 2006 than Republicans. We can go nuclear on Bush to the base, but they can't pull off going nuclear on "generic Democrat," which is essentially who we are to about 50% of the electorate right now (notice the utter ineffectiveness of their attacks on Nancy Pelosi). Thus, our newfound ability to appeal to the base through progressive media and the general midterm opposition edge of the Generic Advantage might be even bigger factors in this election than I at first thought. If Democrats turn out at higher rats than Republicans those two factors will be as key as our GOTV operations.

P.S. If Election Day was a national holiday every year, and same day voter registration was available, I'd be open to the idea of fining people who are eligible to vote but choose not to do so. But only under those two conditions

P.S. If Election Day was a national holiday every year, and same day voter registration was available, I'd be open to the idea of fining people who are eligible to vote but choose not to do so. But only under those two conditions.
We can win if we work to win. We can win if we vote.

posted by Steve @ 7:39:00 PM

7:39:00 PM

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