Evaluation Summary: The Effects of Reciprocity in Voter Mobilization Calls on Voter Turnout

Photo credit Barbara Kalbfleisch | Shutterstock.com

If you live in a swing state, your phone is likely ringing off the hook. Hours before Election Day, that’s the sound of yet another phone call exhorting you to get out and vote. Although campaigns often involve multiple voter mobilization attempts, there is little evidence to explain how or why a second round of voter mobilization phone calls may increase voter turnout beyond the effect of the first round.

Researchers Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, Albert H. Fang, and Catlan E. Reardon evaluated the role of reciprocity in increasing voter turnout through voter mobilization calls. Theory suggests that offering a second phone call during an initial voter mobilization attempt and subsequently following up may establish more reciprocity than simply making two calls. In other words, the initial offer to follow up, paired with a subsequent follow-up call, may signal good will between the caller and the potential voter and compel that person to vote as an act of reciprocity. The researchers partnered with the Colorado Civic Engagement Roundtable and used professional callers to deliver different voter mobilization call strategies during the November 2014 general election. The researchers randomly varied the timing of the call and whether the caller would offer for a follow-up call as a signal of good will and reciprocity.

Offering the follow up in the first call to enhance reciprocity had no impact on the effectiveness of a second call in getting a person to vote. Late calls only increased voter turnout for individuals successfully contacted in the early call. This suggests that reciprocity likely plays a smaller role in voter mobilization calls than anticipated, but that late outreach calls could be most effective when targeted toward people reached previously.

Read the full evaluation summary here.

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