Most Campaign Outreach Has Zero Effect on Voters

By Emma Green

$6.4 billion. That’s how much candidates, political parties, and interest groups spent on federal elections in 2016, according to the Open Secrets project at the Center for Responsive Politics. Especially in competitive races, huge amounts of money are invested in reaching voters through ads, phone banks, direct mail, and canvassing. Ostensibly, the goal is to persuade people to vote for a particular candidate.

A new paper by two California political scientists finds that the total effect of these efforts is zero, meaning that they have no impact on how voters vote. David Broockman, a Stanford University assistant professor, and Joshua Kalla, a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, analyzed data from 49 field experiments—state, local, and federal campaigns that let political scientists access their data to evaluate their methods. For every flyer stuck in a mailbox, every door knocked by an earnest volunteer, and every candidate message left on an answering machine, there was no measurable change in voting outcomes. Even early outreach efforts, which are somewhat more successful at persuading voters, tend to fade from memory by Election Day. Broockman and Kalla also estimated that the effect of television and online ads is zero, although only a small portion of their data speaks directly to that point.

For obvious reasons, this kind of data is relatively rare, according to Broockman and Kalla: Few campaigns want to give outsiders carte blanche access to their operations, particularly when those outsiders might find their methods totally ineffective. But in many ways, it’s the most important kind of data available. It shows how actual voters and campaigns behave, rather than relying on theoretical surveys. The findings suggest that a lot of the time, energy, and money poured into traditional campaigning methods is wasted, and that the campaign operatives hawking tried-and-true …read more

Via:: The Atlantic


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