Melissa R. Michelson, Ph.D., California State University East Bay
Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
Donald Green, Ph.D., Yale University
To increase voter participation rates among infrequent voters, particularly in low-income and ethnic communities.
The initiative supported the organizing and outreach efforts of nine nonprofit organizations with proven histories of working effectively with the communities they aim to mobilize. Voter outreach focused on low-income and ethnic communities in the San Joaquin Valley, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The organizations employed a variety of outreach approaches, including congregation-based outreach, neighborhood-based outreach, live phone calls, voter forums, multilingual materials and information provided via ethnic and mainstream media. More background and details about this initiative is available here.
Irvine funded a team of academic researchers with expertise in political participation, voter turnout and advanced statistical methods to conduct the evaluation of the California Votes Initiative. Recognizing that our funding for voter mobilization can only reach a portion of California’s infrequent voters, this evaluation focused on demonstrating to policymakers, funders and other civic organizations the best strategies for mobilizing these voters. Our dissemination focused on sharing this information with other organizing groups. We also informed public officials about increases in voter participation so that they better understand these politically active constituencies in California.
The evaluation was designed to assess the success of different approaches used to increase voter turnout among the target populations. The evaluation analyzed the diverse outreach activities and identified approaches that are particularly effective in specific settings and communities.
2006 – 2009
The region of each organization’s voter outreach is noted in parentheses.
The effectiveness of grantee efforts with voter mobilization was evaluated using a combination of measures, including:
Participating community-based organizations directly contacted more than 150,000 low-propensity voters via door-to-door visits and phone calls, and hundreds of thousands more via indirect methods, such as direct mail, inspiring many to take part in the electoral process for the first time.
The effectiveness of voter outreach varied. The more effective campaigns generally raised turnout by about 7 to 9 percentage points among those contacted. On the high end, a Riverside organization demonstrated an increase of 33 percentage points in voter participation by canvassing in a community where its staff and volunteers had a long history of outreach. Indirect methods, such as automated phone calls and mailed materials, did not demonstrate statistically significant differences in voter turnout.
Numerous rounds of voter mobilization experiments revealed a defined set of best practices summarized below:
Initial findings regarding the 2006 and 2007 voter outreach were described in the October 2007 report, New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: A Report on the California Votes Initiative. A second report, New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: Second in a Series of Reports on the California Votes Initiative, was published in September 2008 with new insights gleaned from the February and June 2008 elections. A final evaluation report, published in November 2009, summarizes findings from the entirety of the project’s experiments.