Getting Out the Vote: Minority Mobilization in a Presidential Election
Minorities vote at lower rates in the United States, but the precise reasons are the subject of debate. Differences in education levels and resources — which are both correlated with turnout levels across racial groups — help explain varying turnout rates to some extent, but scholars are also studying other subtle factors.
A 2011 study from the University of California, Riverside, and the University of Exeter, “Getting Out the Vote: Minority Mobilization in a Presidential Election,” examines data from the from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Study (NAES), 2004 American National Election Study (ANES) and the 2004 Miami Exit Poll. Published in the journal Political Behavior, the study develops what the authors call the “differential contact thesis” — the idea that, though outreach efforts often target minority groups, the most effective get-out-the-vote techniques are frequently not used to mobilize them. Of course, campaigns have a variety of tactics available, including direct mail, phone calls and door-to-door canvassing.
The study’s findings include:
- “Minorities are both less likely to be contacted by the major parties and, when contacted, are the recipients of less effective methods. More specifically, minorities are less likely to be contacted in-person — the method that is most likely to motivate participation.”
- Civic groups that try to motivate all voters, regardless of ideology, are important, but these interactions have limitations: “Contact from non-partisan groups positively affects recipients’ probability of voting, [but] it is not as effective as mobilization by the major parties.”
- “White voters were distinctly advantaged by being more likely to receive an in-person get-out-the-vote plea than any other group: twice as likely as Haitian voters in our estimates…. In short, our data indicate a tendency for partisan mobilization efforts to exacerbate inequalities based on resources but also on ethnicity and not just because of the incidence of mobilization but also its quality.”
The authors conclude the following: “Our findings suggest that minorities may not be harder to mobilize; they may simply be the recipients of mobilization efforts that are less effective in bringing them to the polls…. Our data cannot say what lies behind this but we do not wish to imply that it is a conscious strategy by the parties; more likely it is a consequence of other factors such as socioeconomic characteristics, residential mobility, and other residential patterns — which was suggested by our findings concerning in-person contact in the home as opposed to on the street — that make the parties unwilling to expend their most labor intensive efforts on minorities. Nevertheless, the implications for minority participation are profound.”
In the 2012 U.S. election cycle, a number of new voter ID requirements have stirred up debate about their potentially disproportionate effects on minorities. A research roundup, “Voter ID, Voting Rights and Election 2012,” examines some of these dynamics.
In addition, a 2012 paper from George Mason University (PDF) uses experiments to examine tactics of intentional “demobilization” of voters and explores how misinformation can be combated around election day.
Tags: Latino, Hispanic, African-American
Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "More Asian Immigrants are Finding Ballots in their Native Tongue."
- What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover voter participation issues?
Read the full study titled "Getting Out the Vote: Minority Mobilization in a Presidential Election."
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?