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What’s the Most Effective Low-Dollar Campaign Approach?

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Let’s say you’re running for local office – like Wake County District Attorney – and you want to spend your dollars most effectively. You’ll raise less than $100,000 in a primary, and you need to know how to deploy those resources so as to effectively maximize votes for you in a low-turn out primary.

What should you do?

Television and radio are out. Too expensive.

You need to focus on Get Out the Vote in the final days of the campaign. And here, personalized messages work best. And your bible is Get Out The Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout by Gerber and Green.

What about direct mail? We’ve had some mailers, especially in the Democratic Primary in Wake County. The evidence is mixed, tending to show that mailers alone are not terribly effective and not nearly as effective as actual personal contact, whether by phone or through canvassing. But direct mail and phone calls can be effective. Professional phone banks are more effective than volunteer phone banks for a couple of reasons. While professional phone banks cost money, the cost is competitive with other tactics.

Door to door canvassing is the most effective method of voter mobilization. While canvassing can be relatively high cost, that cost can be off-set by having a large number of volunteers. See, Obama, 2008 where thousands of volunteers flooded into Iowa.

What if you lack the money or the large number of volunteers to walk the neighborhoods of Apex, Cary, and Raleigh?

An equally effective method can be delivering personalized messages on the phone. Robocalls don’t work as well – listeners hang up on the computer. But a personalized message delivered by a human being working on your campaign (Arceneaux, 2006) can be as effective as in-person canvassing.

What about email? Practically worthless says David Nickerson, who in a study of thirteen email experiments across eight states found that email had no statistical impact on voter turnout.

Social media (Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, etc.) hasn’t been fully explored, but person-to-person social networks can be powerful mobilizing forces.

In terms of cost per additional vote for each effective tactic in Congressional elections:

  • Local Professional Phone Bank – $19 per additional vote
  • Volunteer Professional Phone Bank – $150 per additional vote
  • Door to door canvassing – $31 per additional vote

  • Leafleting – $32 per additional vote

Of course, the numbers may be somewhat different in a local District Attorney race.



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