With Election Day right around the corner, the two candidates are making last minute efforts to reach undecided voters and increase voter turnout. A CBS article outlines Obama’s new strategy to reach undecided voters. He is distributing 3.5 million copies of a magazine-like booklet that outlines his policy ideas if he is elected president for the next four years. He also released a new television advertisement that outlines his agenda for his second term. In addition, the article mentioned that Barack Obama himself would be calling undecided voters from Air Force One while he’s travelling between campaign locations. Action on twitter suggests that Obama is also doing a big push for field campaigning. There have been tweets every day for the past two weeks urging followers to support OFA and make a few calls to voters. Michelle Obama tweeted that she was making calls on behalf of the president with a picture of her at a call center. There was also a video posted of a 91 year old man using the online call feature to reach out to voters.
I have not received either the magazine booklet or seen the new television advertisement, but I have seen an increase in field campaigning particularly from the Obama campaign in the two weeks leading up to Election Day. My house has received three different hand-written post cards from neighbors urging residents to vote for Obama and vote early. We have received a variety of mailers from both campaigns. We even had a door to door campaigner for Obama pay us a visit. I found this in particular incredibly surprising given that my conservative roommates have put up several Romney Ryan signs in our front yard. In addition to noticing this increase in field campaigning, I have noticed a significant decrease in television ads. This could very well be the result of the fact that North Carolina is no longer considered a swing state and both candidates are pulling out resources. Yet field campaigning keeps going strong. I found this interesting because in class we discussed that people only remember television advertisements for about a week. It would seem logical then, that the candidates would be doing the most television advertisements now. Maybe the reason behind this decline is that television ads are expensive and why would either campaign spend all that money in a state that is already leaning towards Romney. Perhaps it is just more cost effective to utilize volunteer field campaigners during this time. We also know that Obama has more field offices and has a stronger focus on field campaigning which could explain why I have received so much from that campaign in particular.
Since this is the path that the campaigns have chosen, especially the Obama campaign, I would like to analyze the effectiveness of field campaigning. For example, is it effective in convincing undecided voters and is it effective in driving turnout? Ground Wars, by Rasmus Nielsen, takes an indepth look at field campaigning by using his experience as a volunteer with several field offices of the Obama campaign in 2004. Nielsen argues that field campaigning is personalized political communication that uses people as media to get out the message of the campaign. His research has shown that there has been a mass reinvesting in field campaigning since 2000 because it can actually work. It is a more targeted way of reaching people and can influence 1-5% of the election. As seen in my personal experience it can provide a layered approach by reaching out to people in different personalized ways at the same time. Messages are also more credible coming through personal channels. Personally, I find it hard to believe television ads and I see so many of them that I almost become numb to whatever message they are trying to convey. I have found myself more receptive to field campaigning because it is more tangible.
There was a study done by Michael Alvarez, Asa Hopkins and Betsy Sinclair that examined the effects of different field campaigning strategies on voter turnout. They conducted an experiment on Pasadena area voters to evaluate the campaign to elect State Treasurer Phil Angelides as the new Governor in 2006. This area is a strong democratic area and the researchers believed they could have a significant effect on the statewide election as long as turnout was high. They selected 24,500 households in the district and randomly assigned them to treatment and control groups. There were approximately 17,000 of these households in the treatment group that randomly receive different field campaigning techniques or a combination of them. There experiment was broken into two phases. The initial phase took place in the first 8 weeks of the campaign and the second was the “get-out-the-vote” phase which was the final week before Election Day. The campaign increased voter turnout 852 votes in comparison to the last election. They found that field campaigning is effective particularly with low propensity voters, voters that have only voted once before. They also found that field campaigning in the weeks right before the election increased turnout. In addition they found that it was very cost effective, where each of the 852 votes only cost $13.73.
These scholars have found that field campaigning can effectively increase turnouts and reach undecided voters. Personally, I feel more influence by the field campaigning messages that I have received. And although I am still working on my decision of who to vote for, if President Obama called me from Air Force One, he would definitely have my vote.