Robo Calls

I love this story from Farad Manjoo which nicely summarizes political science findings on the most effective ways to win-over voters.  It is quite encouraging to know that the utterly despicable “robocalls” of which Republicans are running many, do not seem to be at all effective.  TPM is actually running a nice site that keeps track of all the sleaze.  Sample script from a call running right here in NC:

“You need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with Domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the US Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans.  And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington.  Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgement to lead our country.” 

Anyway, here's the skinny on what works and what doesn't:

Political scientists have run dozens of such studies during the past
few years, and the work has led to what you might call the central
tenet of voter mobilization: Personal appeals work better than
impersonal ones. Having campaign volunteers visit voters door-to-door
is the “gold standard” of voter mobilization efforts, Green and Gerber
write. On average, the tactic produces one vote for every 14 people
contacted. The next-most-effective way to reach voters is to have live,
human volunteers call them on the phone to chat: This tactic produces
one new vote for every 38 people contacted. Other efforts are nearly
worthless. Paying human telemarketers to call voters produces one vote
for every 180 people contacted. Sending people nonpartisan
get-out-the-vote mailers will yield one vote per 200 contacts. (A partisan mailer is even less effective.)

Meanwhile, pinning leaflets to doors, sending people e-mail, and running robo-calls produced no discernible effect on the electorate. Green and Gerber cite many robo-call studies,
but the most definitive is a test they ran during the 2006 Republican
primary in Texas. Gov. Rick Perry recorded a call praising a state
Supreme Court candidate as a true conservative. The robo-call was
“microtargeted” to go out only to Perry supporters?people who'd be most
open to his message. But as Green and Gerber show, Perry supporters who
received the call reacted no differently from those who'd been kept off
the list. They were no more likely to vote, nor, if they voted, to vote
for Perry's candidate.

And working in Obama's favor, it appears that an innovation of his campaign, text-messaging, is amazingly cost-effective:

These findings create an obvious difficulty for campaigns: It's
expensive and time-consuming to run the kind of personal mobilization
efforts that science shows work best. Green and Gerber estimate that a
door-canvassing operation costs $16 per hour, with six voters contacted
each hour; if you convince one of every 14 voters you canvass, you're
paying $29 for each new voter. A volunteer phone bank operation will
run you even more?$38 per acquired voter. This is the wondrous thing
about text-messaging: Studies show
that text-based get-out-the-vote appeals win one voter for every 25
people contacted. That's nearly as effective as door-canvassing, but
it's much, much cheaper. Text messages cost about 6 cents per
contact?only $1.50 per new voter.

As for me, I generally like to leave texting for the under 36 crowd (except when I occassionally like to pretend I'm still young).  Not that Obama needs to text me for my vote anyway.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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