4 simple ways to help get out the vote

We’re one week out from Election Day, and the smart money says that it’s not going to be a fun day for Team Blue.

The FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast gives Republicans an approximately 60/40 chance of gaining control of Congress’ upper chamber, and no one is seriously considering large Democratic gains in the House. That means Republicans would control the House and Senate.

The one saving grace for Democratic Senate hopefuls is that the polls showing them trailing are based on likely voters. And, as we have seen in the last few election cycles, Democrats have the potential to overperform relative to polls by turning unlikely voters into actual voters when it counts.

So in other words, the polls aren’t skewed, but they can sometimes be beaten. Here’s how to do it, and here’s how you can help:

“What’s your plan to vote?”

Vote by Shutterstock.

Vote by Shutterstock.

In both academic and political settings, getting voters to make a plan for voting before Election Day has been shown to raise turnout by roughly four percent.

Just as athletes boost their performance by visualizing success on the field, voters are better voters when they have visualized where, when and how they will cast their ballots.

It doesn’t matter what the plan is, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s written down. What matters is that voters think ahead of time about the logistics involved with breaking their usual Tuesday routine and showing up to vote. You’d be amazed at how many voters don’t know where their polling place is.

Or, if you live in a state with early voting, go vote today and send other people over to do the same.

“Voting is easy”

While all of the talk about the new slate of voter ID laws set to go into effect this year has been useful in pointing out how cravenly political the Republican Party has been in trying to re-engineer the rules of democracy in their favor, it doesn’t do us any favors when we then turn around and try to tell those most-affected by the laws to go out and vote.

Put simply, the harder voting is made to seem, the less likely a marginal voter is to decide that it’s a worthy investment of their time and energy.

In the run-up to Election Day, we should be pointing out that while it’s absolutely true to say the GOP is stating in plain, bureaucratic terms that they’d rather you didn’t vote, you can stick it to them via one of the many channels still available to you to cast a ballot.

“Turnout is going to be high”

We like to think that voting is an individual, personal thing. This is only true with respect to the actual act of filling out a ballot. Voting is an intrinsically social act, and people are far more likely to do it if they hear that everyone else is.

To this point, telling someone that “turnout will be low, so your vote counts for more” actually makes them less likely to vote, while saying “turnout will be high, so make sure your vote is counted” makes them more likely to do so.

And is it really that surprising? When someone hears that turnout is going to be low, what they’re really hearing is that a whole bunch of other people are deciding that voting isn’t worth their time, so why should they bother? Clearly, not voting is a socially acceptable thing to do.

So all of the hand-wringing that Democrats are doing over how low midterm election turnout usually is compared to Presidential years is in part a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it’s especially counterproductive when there’s at least some evidence that this year’s electorate will be larger than 2010’s.

Find a campaign and knock on some doors

The single most effective way to raise voter turnout is through targeted voter contact, particularly in-person conversations. It’s one thing to talk amongst ourselves in our living rooms how important voting is; it’s another thing entirely to go out and talk to voters who have already been identified by a campaign as supporters who may or may not actually cast a ballot.

For every fourteen face-to-face conversations a campaign has with a voter, they get a vote that would not have been cast otherwise. In terms of both votes per contact and voters per dollar spent, that blows every other form of voter contact out of the water.

This means that there are few things you can do that more directly further your political interests than canvassing for a candidate you support. If you don’t in a competitive state or district, you can find one nearby. There are plenty this year.

Campaigns that make a serious investment in voter contact during the closing weeks of an election are able to outperform their polling averages by as much as two percent, turning vast swaths of the unlikely electorate into cast ballots. Two percent is a big number in electoral politics, and there are number of races this year that are polling at similar margins.

One such race is in New Hampshire, where Senator Jeanne Shaheen is working to keep her seat from being taken by Republican interloper and walking LL Bean commercial Scott Brown. I’ll be hitting the doors for her. Where will you be?

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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13 Responses to “4 simple ways to help get out the vote”

  1. Naja pallida says:

    Unless you’re in Georgia, and the partisan election committee just loses your voter registration, and a corrupt judge refuses to allow anyone to do anything about it.

  2. nicho says:

    Aww. You got a duffel bag. I got razors. I’ll swap.

  3. nicho says:

    The story of the day in NH is that Foster’s Daily Democrat, despite its misleading name, ran an anti-Shaheen op-ed. The only fly in the ointment was that the guy who authored the op-ed died in 2009. I guess you could call him a ghost writer.

  4. Indigo says:

    There is that. A similar story applies here in Florida but as far as I can see, the kind of open options and choices you allude to aren’t on the ballot because the system always caters to those who control the system. That isn’t really a surprise, is it?

  5. Indigo says:

    Oddly enough, although Governor Rick Scott and his right-wing cronies worked hard to limit early voting here in Florida, Scott (and his opponent Charlie Crist) have already cast their early voting ballots in front of cameras, just as President Obama has also done. It’s as if we have Election Week (or more) in practice rather than the old-time one day Election Day. Early voting is turning out to be a matter of convenience, even for politicians who originally opposed or attempted to sabotage the practice.

  6. nicho says:

    One way to get better participation would be to give people a choice. On my ballot in CA, we had a “choice” between two candidates who had been pre-approved by the government in each race. In one race, our choice was between two Republicans. There were no Green candidates, no Socialist candidates, no nothing. You couldn’t even write in a candidate, because write-in candidates now have to be pre-approved by the government too. On my ballot, there was simply no place to write anyone in. Kind of like what the people in Hong Kong were protesting against.

  7. BeccaM says:

    Early voting is already open here in New Mexico, too — and my wife and I have already voted.

  8. Bill_Perdue says:

    Contests between Democrats who support wars of aggression, attacks on the Bill of Rights and the standard of living of workers and the fight for an exemption-free Civil Rights Amendment to the federal constitution are the political equivalent of a race to the bottom. Those contests won’t change those policies. In fact very little will change.

    “A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

    For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often. It’s beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, ‘the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.”

    I’ll be watching the local races of the union left and socialists geared towards organizing the unorganized at places like WalMart and McDonalds, for 40 hours pay no matter how many hours are worked and for a decent minimum wage – the minimum wage proposals of the Democrats and Republicans are indecent and insulting. I’ll vote on Prop 3, a tax raising measure and exercise the option of none of the above for the other races.

  9. 2patricius2 says:

    I voted the first day early voting was available in Illinois. I took my next door neighbor. And yesterday I drove my roommate to the polls. So at least three sets of votes are “in the bank.”

  10. Houndentenor says:

    I’m waiting until next Tuesday because I still need to research a few of the less-well publicized ballot initiatives. You are right about early voting although there are moves to restrict early voting especially over the weekends (in a rather obvious attempt to make it harder for workers to vote.

  11. dcinsider says:

    Glad to see you out supporting Shaheen in NH. Scott Brown is the definition of an empty suit, when he is wearing anything at all.

    Friends in New England think Shaheen will pull this off if Democrats show up. It’s ours to lose.

  12. GarySFBCN says:

    What is really troubling is that we didn’t anticipate the need to help those affected by the barriers created by some “voter-ID laws.” We should have funds and resources available for people like Eric Kennie, whose marginal income makes it nearly impossible to get the proper documents to vote, even though he has rarely missed voting in previous elections:

    “‘Born and raised’ Texans forced to prove identities under new voter ID law”


  13. Indigo says:

    I already voted. Unnoticed by the pundits, many places in the States allow voters to cast their ballots early at designated sites. In effect, the US has already abandoned the old-fashioned Election Day syndrome in favor of the more updated week (or more) long open voting option.

    Meanwhile, the Goddess of Irony strikes again with a very tasteful NRA ad just. A modest $25.00 membership gets you your free duffel bag. What a deal!

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