Voter Turnout

VOTER TURNOUT....Via Brendan Nyhan, here's a fascinating little piece of political science research that even hardened pols might want to pay attention to. A trio of academics decided to test different ways of boosting voter turnout and discovered one sure-fire way of getting dynamite results: send out letters telling people whether they and their neighbors have voted in past elections and promising to send a followup letter after the election. The unsubtle message is: voting records are public information, and if you don't vote this year your neighbors will know about it. So do your civic duty, dammit.

Result: turnout among those who got the letters was a whopping 8.1 percentage points higher than the control group. A sample of the letter the poli sci boffins sent out is at the right.

Now, I know what you're thinking: this is kind of creepy. And sure, it is. But 8 percentage points? Most campaign managers would sell their grandmothers into white slavery for that kind of an advantage. If you could target these mailings solely to likely Democratic or Republican voters, and thereby increase turnout for your candidate by 8 points, you'd be hailed as America's next political wunderkind. And it's cheap, too. If a bunch of political scientists can afford to do this, it's chump change for a presidential campaign.

So: who do you think is more likely to do this? Democrats or Republicans? And will they try to hide the source of the mail (it is kind of creepy, after all)? Or will they do it out in the open and just take the hit? Or, alternately, do it openly and then brazen it out by claiming that they're really performing a public service and the electorate ought to be grateful?

Anyway, there's plenty of time to get cracking and have these mailings ready to go for November. But only if you get started now. Anyone listening?

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