Get Out the Vote

Get Out the Vote


Votes are meant to be the great equalizer, and certainly the more people who vote, the harder or more expensive it is for narrow special interests to monopolize political influence. At the same time, the way those voters are mobilized matters. Generally speaking, voter mobilization tactics are more People Powered than other aspects of campaigns, relying heavily on volunteers, but if the most effective ways to mobilize voters involve extensive reliance on highly paid staffers, expensive technologies, or activist outliers, then candidates will need some subsets of the electorate (donors to pay the staffers, the activist groups, etc.) more than a broad cross section of the electorate and risk feeling pressured to heed those subsets more once in office.

The conventional practice in House races is for the parties to make the investment in “ground games” (local door-to-door efforts by staff and volunteers) late in the electoral season, after the parties have assessed how competitive each race is and determined where their investments are likely to pay off most effectively for the party. It is also worth noting that these operations are often largely “imported” – the staff swoops in at the last minute, builds much of the outreach operation from scratch without effectively leveraging local civil society infrastructure or networks. These networks – religious institutions, gun clubs, Planned Parenthood offices, PTAs, etc. – could play a significant role in Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts. These dynamics present opportunities, and effectively build off of active civil society groups.


  • Can new innovations increase the ROI of leveraging volunteers to get people to the polls? Can new tactics for leveraging social pressure or competitive games via online platforms efficiently move significant numbers of “Interested Bystanders”7 to vote – and reward volunteers who encourage others to get involved? Could private companies play a bigger role whether through new policies, special events or deals that increase voter turnout? Could local civic organizations play a more active role? (Increase the ROI of People Powered Tactics)
  • Might there be ways to incur a greater cost on non-volunteer, non-local ground games by promoting efforts to expose out-of-state and/or paid door-knockers or callers? (Decrease the ROI of Conventional Tactics)
  • Could more effective promotion of the research on the efficacy of authentic personal interaction increase the allocation of time and resources that such tactics receive from campaigns and thereby increase reliance on a broader cross-section of volunteers? (Influence Campaign Culture)

What the Domain Experts Say


Ian Russell

Political Director, Democratic Congressional Committee
It’s generally the state party committees that subsidize fieldwork in Congressional races, and often not until the last weeks of the campaign. Both candidates and parties realize it would be better to start earlier and do more in the field – so strategies for making that easier and more affordable could be of real interest.

What the Domain Experts Say


Hahrie Han

Anton Vonk Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara
This is an area ripe for disruption because campaigns will inevitably have to transform their strategies for turning out voters as changing demographics and the rise of new technologies transform the way people relate to each other and to politics.


Anton Vuljaj

Chief Revenue Officer, Media Group of America / Former Republican Media and GOTV Consultant
Social media and technology can revolutionize the way campaigns drive supporters to the polls. With the proliferation of social media to drive turnout and major technology companies taking a focus on civic engagement both domestically and abroad, I imagine over the next 20 years we’ll see increased voter turnout during federal elections. The big question will be how can we use those same tactics at the local level and get people excited to go out and vote for city council and school board elections.


Arturo Vargas

Executive Director, NALEO – National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
Candidates and campaigns only talk to highly likely voters, and like it that way. They do not want to introduce new voters into the electorate whose behavior they do not know.


John Fallone

Executive Director, Lincoln Network
“Get out and vote” is where campaigns can create huge gaps between true public sentiment and election results. To achieve a representative democracy, we need to ensure people get out and vote, regardless of constituency.


Demond Drummer

Former Field Organizer, Obama for America / Co-Founder of Resident Association of Greater Englewood
The idea of large private corporations offering deals, special events, etc. worries me. A people powered playbook should focus not on increasing turnout at large (or decreasing ROI on the traditional playbook) but on increasing ROI of people powered campaigns themselves. That way, in low-turnout elections, the people powered campaign that knows how to mobilize its voters has a greater chance of winning. A focus on tools and methods that enable and optimize volunteer door-to-door canvassing, phone banking and targeted outreach to friends online will have tremendous impact.


John Pudner

Executive Director, Take Back Our Republic / Campaign Manager, Dave Brat
Campaigns tend to think money is your greatest resource. We believe volunteers are your most important asset, and ensuring their time is effectively utilized is both good campaign practice and critical to developing a people powered playbook.


Reid Kellam

Account Manager, Snapchat / Former Media Associate at Bully Pulpit Interactive
I feel that ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are going to be the new shiny toy for 2016 Get Out the Vote Efforts. These services have become increasingly popular in the past few years, and they now have drivers in cities and towns all across the country. Since both companies preach social responsibility, will they offer free rides to-and-from polling centers? With enough outreach, that could have a significant impact on voter turnaround in 2016. I’m curious to see what percentage of first-time voters use ride sharing apps to get to the polls in 2016. I’d also be curious to see what types of efforts these companies make to give senior citizens rides to the polls, even if they don’t have the apps themselves.


Frederick Mayer

Professor of Public Policy, Political Science and Environment, Duke University
Given the importance of broad citizen participation in sustaining democracy, insights into voter mobilization are crucial. Scholarship that subjects tactics and other approaches to rigorous scrutiny can influence campaign strategy and shift greater attention to low-propensity voters.


Costas Papagopoulos

Visiting Professor of Political Science, Yale University
New research on voter behavior is opening up new approaches to increase voter registration and turnout, perhaps the most important factor in increasing people power.


Megan Garcia

Senior Fellow & Director, New America CA
Many campaigns are still using old lists and robo calls to do GOTV. Getting technology into the hands of young campaigns that allows them to understand who their voters are and what they want would be a hugely important way to help them connect with voters and track those connections so that voters feel like a part of the electoral process.


Catherine Bracy

Former Senior Director, Code for America
There is no getting around the fact that personal, 1:1 campaigning is expensive. You might be able to lower the cost some but probably not significantly. Also, don’t underestimate the sense of empowerment and achievement volunteers get from finishing a call sheet, entering data, etc. If you make that process too efficient you risk disempowering your volunteers.


Carolyn Lukensmeyer

Executive Director, The National Institute for Civil Discourse
For as long as our campaigns for public office are distorted by massive infusions of money, the only antidote for us to achieve the ideals expressed in our founding documents re the rightful role of we, the people are massive infusions of votes.

Expert Summary Analysis

All answers: 1 = strongly disagree / 5 = strongly agree

How much do the conventional tactics for achieving this objective influence how reliant campaigns feel on narrow subsets as opposed to broad cross-sections of the electorate?

Average: 3.620%

How much do you think the tactics for achieving this objective are likely to change in the coming decade?

Average: 3.640%

How much opportunity do you see for advancing more People Powered tactics for achieving this objective via each lever?

Increase People Powered ROI

Average: 4.360%

Decrease Conventional ROI

Average: 2.460%

Culture Change

Average: 4.070%
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  7. In a recently published report commissioned by Google’s Civic Innovation portfolio, Kate Krontiris and colleagues report that nearly 50% of the American public could be considered “Interested Bystanders” – they care about the civic and political health of the nation and engage occasionally in the political process, but are put off by the lack of agency they feel to address the issues they care about, the barriers or costs to getting involved, and how confrontational or advocacy-based much of the participation feels. Krontiris and her colleagues see this demographic as a “moveable segment” that could be incentivized to participate significantly more under the right conditions. We, at the Pluribus Project, also see empowering and engaging this demographic in the political process as critical to our goals.