In the last 2-3 weeks of an election, campaigns shift gears. 

The question is no longer “How do I appeal to voters?”, but “How do I get supporters to the polls?” 

And at that point, it’s a numbers game. You need a certain number of votes to win. What can you do to get them?

The answer is perfecting your voter mobilization process.

What is voter mobilization?

Put simply, voter mobilization is the process of getting citizens to vote.

Is it effective?

There are four key factors to consider when estimating the effectiveness of a voter mobilization effort.

  • Which voters are you contacting?

Supporters are more likely to be influenced by GOTV messages than undecided voters.

  • How are you contacting them?

Door to door canvassing nets the highest increase in voter turnout, at 4.3 percent.

  • Who is speaking to them?

Volunteer-led phone banks are 2.1% more effective than hiring agents to make calls.

  • What are you saying to them?

The Progressive Turnout project sent over 87,000 social pressure mailers to voters in 2018, and cited an 8% increase in voter turnout.

We expand on how you can reach out to voters to maximize the success of your mobilization campaign in the strategies section.

Why is voter mobilization important?

Demographics are an indicator of the likelihood of a person to vote:

  • Caucasians and African Americans are more likely to vote than Asians or Latinos. (by around 10 percent.)
  • The old (60+) are 30% more likely to turnout than the young (18 – 29.)
  • Post graduates are over 40% more likely to turnout than those without a high school education.

Concentrating on turning out the unlikelier voter demographics can quickly shift the tide in an election.

Why is it important for campaigns?

In small, local elections, the results could go either way based on a few hundreds of votes.

There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to documenting instances of close races. In over 270 races from around the world, an election could have gone either way based on a handful of votes.

Why is it important for voters?

Elected officials are more likely to take note of the concerns of the demographics with the highest voter turnout.

Similarly, policymakers can afford to ignore groups that don’t turn up at the polls. In cases where these groups are affected by voter suppression, this creates a cycle of oppression.

Organizing vs mobilizing

If voter mobilization is the end goal for your campaign, organizing is the fuel that gets you there.

The success of your voter mobilization efforts depends on how much effort was put into organizing in the initial part of the campaign, i.e.:

  • Building your supporter base
  • Raising and allocating funds
  • Experimenting with messaging 
  • Building relationships with influencers and communities

Knowing which stage your campaign is at (organizing or mobilizing) will inform the tactics you use to engage supporters. Luckily, an election doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. 

Mobilization starts 2-3 weeks before election day; Organizing is everything before that point, from the time you start your campaign.

If you’re in the organizing stages of campaigning (and the major part of your campaign should be that), read our post on digital organizing tactics.

Once you have built your base, and gained momentum, you mobilize.

Let’s look at some ways you might put voter mobilization into practice.

Voter mobilization strategies

With over 200 years of history behind electioneering in the USA, no campaign has to go in completely blind. What get out the vote tactics have proven to be most successful?

Note that for GOTV, one successful contact with many voters is more impactful than multiple contacts with fewer voters. Keep that in mind when implementing the following tactics in your outreach.

  1. Avoid mobilizing opposition voters
  2. Work with local/established organizations
  3. Use research back mobilization channels
  4. Personal interactions and deep canvassing
  5. Use social pressure
  6. Help voters make a plan

Avoid mobilizing opposition voters

This would seem pretty obvious. No campaign wants to accidentally bolster the voter base of an opponent (and waste effort doing so). 

But how do you make sure?

Targeting is key.

Initial outreach from your campaign in the organizing phase will have focused on getting supporter level data from voters. 

Segment confirmed supporters to your GOTV universe—the voters your campaign will canvass in the last days of the election.

Some campaigns may calculate that turning out their existing voter base will net them a victory. For others, persuasion efforts targeted towards undecided voters will be necessary to push them over the win number. Read more on how you can persuade opposition and swing voters.

Work with local/established organizations

If your campaign is attempting voter mobilization with little to no experience, consider partnering with groups that specialize in activating voters.

Here are just a few examples:

Often, these organizations are run by young people, people of color and other marginalized groups in the election process.

This is important if your campaign depends on turning these marginalized groups out to vote and have their say.

For example, Indivisible has chapters across the country, focused on flipping house and senate seats. They do this by organizing canvassing campaigns for local candidates.

Use research back mobilization channels

Robocalls, email campaigns and online ads have been shown to have little to no direct impact on voter turnout.

What channels do have an impact?

  1. Canvassing. Face-to-face conversations are the most effective form of voter contact your campaign can undertake. This should be your priority when it comes to voter outreach for GOTV.
  2. Phonebanking. Your best bet after door canvassing is phone calls. This allows you to run distributed campaigns allowing volunteers to participate from anywhere, with the added advantage of being able to talk to more people in a shorter period of time.
  3. Texting. Peer-to-peer texting is a relatively recent mode of voter contact. It comes in handy when you want to have quick text conversations with voters, ex. to send them polling locations.

Personal interactions and deep canvassing

We’ve talked about channels you can use for voter mobilization. 

What about the messenger?

Another data point we can observe from the graph above is that volunteer-led phone banking does much better in increasing voter turnout, compared to commercial phone banking (using hired agents)

Local volunteers can appeal to voter’s by:

  • Highlighting the commonality in where they are from (the same neighbourhood or town)
  • In the case of marginalized groups, highlighting the commonality in age, income bracket or ethnicity
  • Sharing their own personal story with a candidate or campaign

When running persuasion efforts before a GOTV campaign, tactics that engage voters in two-way conversations, such as deep canvassing are shown to be effective.

Next, let’s talk about the message itself.

Use social pressure

Gentle social pressure can convince people to vote.

According to studies, emphasizing a high expected turnout in your messaging serves to boost voter turnout. The opposite is true if you approach voters talking about low turnout rates.

Messaging that asks citizens to “be a voter” is found to be more effective than simply asking them to vote.

If the supporter has been a frequent voter in the past, they might not need the encouragement, but simply appreciating them for setting an example for the neighbourhood can go a long way in keeping them dedicated.

Help voters make a plan

Having voters verbalize a plan to vote with a volunteer makes it much more likely for them to show up at the polls.

Have volunteers ask leading questions:

  • Can we expect you to vote on election day?
  • What time do you plan to vote?
  • Are you aware of your polling location?
  • Do you need help getting there?

Here’s a mock interaction between a volunteer and a voter by Resistance School that shows how a typical door knock is done.

Fighting voter suppression

Voter suppression is the flipside of voter mobilization.

Voter suppression is any legal or illegal attempt to prevent voters from exercising their right to have a say in the electoral process.

This is often designed to disproportionately affect groups based on their income, race, age, or gender.

In what forms does voter suppression occur?

  • Strict voter ID requirements – Over 30 states have considered requiring a government issued ID to register to vote (an estimated 11 percent of citizens lack such an ID.)
  • Purging of voter rolls – The discounting of legitimate votes citing voter fraud.
  • Gerrymandering – Drawing electoral lines to artificially favor one party over another.
  • Felony disenfranchisement – Citizens with felony convictions have their right to vote revoked in many states, even after serving time.
  • Limitations to early/absentee voting – The ability of voters to cast their votes early varies from state to state.
  • Disinformation – Channels like social media used to spread false information in regards to voting.

In some of these instances of voter suppression, your campaign can help by keeping voters informed.

How can you combat voter suppression?

  • Help communities overcome voting barriers by sharing resources like vote.org and 866ourvote.org, that offer registration and ballot deadlines, tools to request absentee ballots, and polling station locations.
  • For former felons, this website lets them know if they can restore their right to vote with a quick survey – https://campaignlegal.org/restoreyourvote 
  • Report suspected cases of election fraud to appropriate agencies such as the U.S. Election Assistance Commission

To summarize the steps you can take to mobilize voters:

  1. Target likely supporters when mobilizing. 
  2. Use the most direct channels available to you.
  3. Get the help of local volunteers.
  4. Use social pressure and emphasize the importance of voting.
  5. Help voters make a plan for election day.
  6. Keep them informed to combat voter suppression.

CallHub offers calling and texting tools to help campaigns reach supporters. Learn more about our software for political campaigns.

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