All in the Family: Partisan Disagreement and Electoral Mobilization in Intimate Networks - a Spillover Experiment (American Journal of Political Science 61(2): 289-304)

Florian Foos and Eline de Rooij

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We advance the debate about the impact of political disagreement in social networks on electoral participation by addressing issues of causal inference common in network studies, focusing on voters’ most important context of interpersonal influence: the household. We leverage a randomly assigned spillover experiment conducted in the UK, combined with a detailed database of pre-treatment party preferences and public turnout records, to identify social influence within heterogeneous and homogeneous partisan households. Our results show that intra-household mobilization effects are larger as a result of campaign contact in heterogeneous than in homogeneous partisan households, and larger still when the partisan intensity of the message is exogenously increased, suggesting discussion rather than behavioral contagion as a mechanism. Our results qualify findings from influential observational studies, and suggest that within intimate social networks, negative correlations between political heterogeneity and electoral participation are unlikely to result from political disagreement.

Read more on the AJPS blog.


Parties Are No Civic Charities: Voter Contact and the Changing Partisan Composition of the Electorate (forthcoming in Political Science Research and Methods)

Florian Foos and Peter John

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In contrast to non-partisan GOTV campaigns, political parties do not aim to increase turnout across the board. Instead, their principal goal is to affect the outcome of an election in their favor. To find out how they do this, this paper uses a randomized field experiment to evaluate the effect of campaign visits and leafleting by Conservative Party canvassers on turnout in a marginal English Parliamentary constituency during the 2014 European and Local Elections. Commonly-used campaign interventions, leaflets and door-knocks, changed the composition of the electorate in favor of the Conservative Party, but did not increase turnout overall. Supporters of rival parties, particularly Labour self-identifiers, were significantly less likely to mobilize in response to Conservative campaign contact than Conservative supporters. In contrast to the non-partisan GOTV literature, we show that impersonal campaign leaflets were as effective in shaping the local electorate in the Conservative’s favor as personal visits. The common practice of contacting all constituents irrespective of their party preferences was effective as a campaign tactic, but had no civic benefits in the aggregate.

The Role of Partisan Cues in Voter Mobilization Campaigns: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment (Electoral Studies 45(1): 63-74)

Florian Foos and Eline de Rooij

The transmission of partisan appeals during election campaigns is widely believed to aid the formation of citizens’ candidate preferences, or to serve as rallying cries, thereby increasing turnout. While laboratory and survey experiments show that partisan cues help citizens decide between candidates, and partisan elections see higher turnout than non-partisan elections, it is unclear if using party labels and partisan rhetoric causes voters to turn out in higher numbers in real-world elections. We exploit a low-information election in the UK to randomly assign whether campaign phone messages included strong partisan cues or promoted the same Labour candidate without such cues. Whereas we find no significant difference in the overall effectiveness of messages with and without partisan cues at increasing turnout, the effectiveness of the former differs significantly depending on party preference: Citizens seemingly use partisan cues as acceptance-rejection heuristics, leading to mobilization effects that are positive only among supporters.

First Impressions - Lasting Impressions: The short- and long-term effects of candidate contact on voting intentions (draft version, June 2017)

Florian Foos

We usually assume that first impressions matter, both in politics and in relation to social interactions. However, we know relatively little about the effects of mediated and unmediated interactions between candidates and voters on voting intentions in high stakes, national elections. Survey- and field experiments have demonstrated that political persuasion, in general, is possible, and that persuasion effects can be long-lasting. At the same time, the small, but growing literature that uses field experiments to study political persuasion in high-stakes elections, raises doubts about the idea that campaigns are able to persuade voters. Drawing on a unique dataset of individual voting intentions collected in a UK parliamentary constituency from 2002 up to the General Election of May 2015, I study voting intentions after a first time Labour Parliamentary candidate introduces herself to a randomly assigned subset of rival and swing-voters. Based on the consistent results of two randomized field experiments, I show that despite the presence of partisan cues and party loyalties, voters initially update their voting intentions after interacting with the candidate, and that these persuasion effects are non-negligible and last for multiple weeks. However, over time, persuasion effects decline, and voters appear to revert back to their default choices. This study shows that apparent contradictions between the results of persuasion experiments in low and high-stakes elections can be reconciled, and offers a new means of producing more evidence by leveraging the ongoing data collection routines embedded in partisan election campaigns.


How Issue Ownership Shapes Campaign Effects: A Field Experiment in the 2014 UK Elections

Florian Foos, Kevin Cunningham and Peter John

We present the first test of issue ownership theory in a randomized field experiment, embedded in a Labour Constituency Party’s leafleating campaign during the 2014 local and European elections. According to issue ownership, parties attempt to win elections by raising the salience of issues on which they hold a longstanding reputational advantage. We randomly assigned whether subjects received a leaflet emphasizing an issue owned by the Labour Party (healthcare), one owned by the governing Conservative Party (crime and policing), or no leaflet. The leaflets are expected to make the issues more salient and accessible to voters when they think about their electoral decision. We present the results from a post-treatment telephone survey measuring issue salience, issue competence, vote choice, as well as turnout from official records. Our results show that the health care leaflet significantly increased the salience of the issue to voters, as well as increasing turnout by around 3 percentage points. The crime leaflet in contrast, did not have any effects on turnout. We find no support for the most plausible alternative mechanism, namely that the leaflet affected subjects’ valence considerations regarding the healthcare issue. While we find little evidence of effects on vote choice, Labour is likely to have gained votes from differential turnout as a consequence of the NHS leaflet as it mostly encouraged undecided voters to turn out at the expense of Conservative voters. Campaigning on an owned issue hence appears to be a more effective campaign strategy than campaigning on an issue owned by a competitor.

Of UFOs and Politics: How Marginalized Voters Respond to Policy Promises (Draft, August 2017)

Josh Carpenter and Florian Foos

Can poor citizens be mobilized to vote by a campaign that promises to include them in major social policy? We test this question with a randomized field experiment using the case of Medicaid expansion in the Alabama 2014 Gubernatorial election to inform citizens who would be eligible via the Democratic candidate’s expansion plan about their eligibility and Medicaid’s benefits. Although the intervention successfully informed subjects about the policy and opposing candidate positions, it failed to increase turnout. Combining experimental data with in-depth interviews, we contextualize the failure of the campaign, considering the substantial material and health benefits at stake. Just as direct policy feedback engenders mobilization among a target population, we argue that indirect policy feedback affects individuals marginalized by extant policy designs. The boundaries of state social policies, combined with direct forms of disenfranchisement, can negatively affect voting capability, limiting the potential of policy-based mobilization among the marginalized.