Political Behavior

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 135–154 | Cite as

The Role of Call Quality in Voter Mobilization: Implications for Electoral Outcomes and Experimental Design

Original Paper


We demonstrate the centrality of high quality personal interactions for successfully overcoming the collective action problem of voter mobilization, and highlight the need for attention to treatment quality before making substantive inferences from field experiments. We exploit natural variation in the quality of voter mobilization phone calls across call centers to examine how call quality affects voter mobilization in a large-scale field experiment conducted during the 2010 Election. High quality calls (from call centers specializing in calling related to politics) produced significant increases in turnout. In contrast, low quality calls (from multi-purpose commercial call centers) failed to increase turnout. Furthermore, we offer caution about using higher contact rates as an indication of delivery quality. Our treatment conditions with higher contact rates had no impact on turnout, suggesting an unfavorable trade-off between quantity of contacts and call quality.


Field experiment Voter mobilization Causal inference Experimental design Mobilization calls House effects 



We thank our partner organization for the support that made this research possible. We thank the editors, anonymous reviewers, Stephen Ansolabehere, Donald Green, John Love, Frank Sansom, Brian Shaffner, and the participants in the Political Science Faculty Colloquium at the University of Miami for their helpful comments. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2012 Midwest Political Science Association Conference. This research was conducted under University of Miami Human Subjects Research Office Protocol #20110124. Replication data is available at http://www.sites.google.com/site/christopherbmann. All errors are the responsibility of the authors.

Supplementary material

11109_2013_9264_MOESM1_ESM.docx (98 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 98 kb)


  1. American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). (2011). Standard definitions: Final dispositions of case codes and outcome rates for surveys (7th ed.). Washington: AAPOR.Google Scholar
  2. Angrist, Joshua D., Imbens, G. W., & Rubin, D. B. (1996). Identification of causal effects using instrumental variables. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 91(434), 444–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atkeson, L., Adams, A., Bryant, L., Zilberman, L., & Saunders, K. (2011). Considering mixed mode surveys for questions in political behavior: Using the internet and mail to get quality data at reasonable costs. Political Behavior, 33, 161–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bedolla, L. G., & Michelson, M. R. (2012). Mobilizing inclusion: Transforming the electorate through get-out-the-vote campaigns. New Haven: Yale University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dahl, R. A. (1956). A preface to democratic theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dale, A., & Strauss, A. (2007). Don’t forget to vote: Text message reminders as a mobilization tool. American Journal of Political Science, 53(4), 787–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gerber, A. S., & Green, D. P. (2000). The effects of personal canvassing, telephone calls, and direct mail on voter turnout: A field experiment. American Political Science Review, 94, 653–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gerber, A. S., & Green, D. P. (2001). Do phone calls increase voter turnout? A field experiment. Public Opinion Quarterly, 65(1), 75–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gerber, A. S., & Green, D. P. (2005a). Correction to Gerber and Green (2000), replication of disputed findings, and reply to Imai. American Political Science Review, 99(2), 301–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gerber, A. S., & Green, D. P. (2005b). Do phone calls increase voter turnout? An update. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 601(1), 142–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gerber, A. S., & Rogers, T. (2009). Descriptive social norms and motivation to vote: Everybody’s voting and so should you. Journal of Politics, 71(1), 178–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gerring, John. (2001). Social science methodology: A criterial framework. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Green, Donald P., & Gerber, A. S. (2008). Get out the vote! (2nd ed.). Washington: Brookings.Google Scholar
  14. Ha, S. E., & Karlan, D. S. (2009). Get-out-the-vote phone calls: Does quality matter? American Politics Research, 37(2), 353–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Keeter, S., Kennedy, C., Dimock, M., Best, J., & Craighill, P. (2006). Gauging the impact of growing nonresponse on estimates from a national RDD telephone survey. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70(5), 759–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Klofstad, C. A., McDermott, R., & Hatemi, P. K. (2011). Do bedroom eyes wear political glasses? The role of politics in human mate attraction. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(2), 100–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Leahey, E. (2008). Methodological memes and mores: Toward a sociology of social research. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 33–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Malhotra, N., Michelson, M. R., Rogers, T., & Valenzuela, A. A. (2011). Text messages as mobilization tools: The conditional effect of habitual voting and election salience. American Politics Research, 39(4), 664–681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mann, C. B. (2011). Preventing ballot roll-off: A multi-state field experiment addressing an overlooked deficit in voting participation. New Orleans: Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association.Google Scholar
  20. Michelson, M. R., Bedolla, L. G., & McConnell, M. A. (2009). Heeding the call: The effect of targeted two-round phone banks on voter turnout. Journal of Politics, 71(4), 1549–1563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nickerson, D. W. (2006). Volunteer phone calls can increase turnout: Evidence from eight field experiments. American Politics Research, 34(3), 271–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nickerson, D. W. (2007). Quality is job one: Professional and volunteer voter mobilization calls. American Journal of Political Science, 51(2), 269–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nickerson, D. W. (2008). Is voting contagious? Evidence from two field experiments. American Political Science Review, 102(1), 49–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nickerson, D. W. (2011). When the client owns the data. The experimental political scientist: Newsletter of the APSA experimental section, 2(2), 5–6.Google Scholar
  25. Nickerson, D. W., & Rogers, T. (2010). Do you have a voting plan? Implementation intentions, voter turnout, and organic plan making. Psychological Science, 21(2), 194–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Olson, M. (1965). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Olson, K., & Bilgen, I. (2011). The role of interviewer experience on acquiesence. Public Opinion Quarterly, 75(1), 99–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Panagopoulos, Costas. (2011). Thank you for voting: Gratitude expression and voter mobilization. Journal of Politics, 73(3), 707–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Porter, T. (1995). Trust in numbers. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  30. Sinclair, B., McConnell, M. A., & Green, D. P. (2012). Detecting spillover effects: Design and analysis of multi-level experiments. American Journal of Political Science, 5(4), 1055–1069.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Smith, T. W. (1978). In search of house effects: A comparison of responses to various questions by different survey organizations. Public Opinion Quarterly, 42(4), 443–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Smith, T. W. (1982). House effects and the reproducibility of survey measurements: A comparison of the 1980 GSS and the 1980 American national election study. Public Opinion Quarterly, 46, 54–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Viterna, J. S., & Maynard, D. W. (2002). How uniform is standardization? Variation within and across survey research centers regarding protocols for interviewing. In D. W. Maynard, H. Houtkoop-Steenstra, N. C. Schaeffer, & J. van der Zouwen (Eds.), Standardization and tacit knowledge: Interaction and practice in the survey interview. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  34. Weisberg, H. F. (2005). The total survey error approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Manship School of Mass CommunicationBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

Personalised recommendations