Political Behavior

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 3-29

The Politics of Participation: Mobilization and Turnout over Time

  • Kenneth M. GoldsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • , Travis N. RidoutAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison

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Recent studies have argued that mobilization is not only an important determinant of individual participation, but that it can explain the mystery of declining voter turnout in the United States over the past 40 years. We identify and evaluate three possible ways in which mobilization might have affected levels of turnout over time: (a) aggregate rates of mobilization may have declined, (b) the effectiveness of mobilization contacts may have declined, and (c) the targeting of mobilization may have changed. The first two theories have been well articulated in the literature; the third has not. We find no evidence of a decline in mobilizing activity, nor do we find that mobilizing techniques have become less effective. Although we find that campaigns are more likely to target habitual voters in recent years, this pattern of behavior can only explain a small amount of the overall decline in turnout.

voter turnout mobilization political participation