Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 713–746 | Cite as

Unresponsive and Unpersuaded: The Unintended Consequences of a Voter Persuasion Effort

  • Michael A. Bailey
  • Daniel J. HopkinsEmail author
  • Todd Rogers
Original Paper


To date, field experiments on campaign tactics have focused overwhelmingly on mobilization and voter turnout, with far more limited attention to persuasion and vote choice. In this paper, we analyze a field experiment with 56,000 Wisconsin voters designed to measure the persuasive effects of canvassing, phone calls, and mailings during the 2008 presidential election. Focusing on the canvassing treatment, we find that persuasive appeals had two unintended consequences. First, they reduced responsiveness to a follow-up survey among infrequent voters, a substantively meaningful behavioral response that has the potential to induce bias in estimates of persuasion effects as well. Second, the persuasive appeals possibly reduced candidate support and almost certainly did not increase it. This counterintuitive finding is reinforced by multiple statistical methods and suggests that contact by a political campaign may engender a backlash.


Field experiment Political campaigns Political persuasion Non-random attrition Survey response 



This paper has benefitted from comments by David Broockman, Kevin Collins, Eitan Hersh, Seth Hill, Michael Kellermann, Gary King, Marc Meredith, David Nickerson, Maya Sen, and Elizabeth Stuart. For research assistance, the authors gratefully acknowledge Julia Christensen, Zoe Dobkin, Katherine Foley, Andrew Schilling, and Amelia Whitehead. David Dutwin, Alexander Horowitz, and John Ternovski provided helpful replies to various queries.Earlier versions of this manuscript were presented at the 30th Annual Summer Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology at the University of Virginia, July 18th, 2013 and at Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, October 18th, 2013.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael A. Bailey
    • 1
  • Daniel J. Hopkins
    • 2
    Email author
  • Todd Rogers
    • 3
  1. 1.Colonel William J.Walsh Professor of American Government, Department of Government and McCourt School of Public PolicyGeorgetown University WashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia USA
  3. 3.Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of GovernmentHarvard UniversityCambridge USA

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