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Gerber and Green: Do phone calls increase voter turnout

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Gerber and Green. 2005. Do phone calls increase voter turnout? An update. Annals of the American Academy of Political Science.

Main Point

Nonpartisan telephone appeals do nothing to boost voter turnout.

The Experiments

West Haven Experiment (1998)

  • X: Whether you were called with a nonpartisan appeal to vote
  • Y: Whether you voted
  • Placebo: Whether you were called with an appeal to donate blood to the Red Cross

By including the placebo group, the authors can control for "reachability." If we just compare those who received a "get out the vote" (GOTV) appeal to those who didn't, GOTV appeals appaear to have boosted turnout from 48 to 64.5%, but this result is fallacious. If we compare turnout among those who received a GOTV appeal to those who received a placebo (blood drive) appeal, then the turnout rates are 64.5 and 67.2 percent (suggesting that GOTV appeals actually hurt turnout, but insignificantly). Thus, those who are "reachable" turn out more than those who are not. Being "reachable" makes you more likely to vote; being "reached" does not.

Michigan and Iowa Experiments

Similar design, but without the placebo. Methods were adjusted slightly as a result. Controls for whether the voter's local Congressional race was competitive. Finds that competitiveness doesn't matter; nonpartisan phone GOTV appeals don't matter.

The Lit

Previous studies have found significant effects. But these studies all have a small N (which makes false positives more likely). In an earlier study (Gerber, Green, and Nickerson 2001), the authors noted a strong negative correlation between strength of effect and sample size, suggesting that the journals' bias against publishing insignificant results has led to only false positives being published. [[]]