Parties Are No Civic Charities: Voter Contact and the Changing Partisan Composition of the Electorate (Political Science Research and Methods 6(2): 283-298)

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

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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.

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.