Last-minute efforts under way to get voters out for midterms

WASHINGTON: In the final days leading to US midterm elections on November 7, a diverse assortment of trade associations, nonprofit groups, and other organizations were either winding down or ramping up last-minute get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaigns to get voters to the polls.

WASHINGTON: In the final days leading to US midterm elections on November 7, a diverse assortment of trade associations, nonprofit groups, and other organizations were either winding down or ramping up last-minute get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaigns to get voters to the polls.

The techniques they're using - whether they be online viral marketing campaigns or old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing and phone calls, or some combination thereof - will be a subject of considerable post-mortem analysis, political observers said, as all those involved in campaigning during this election cycle are laying down strategies for the even grander prize to be won in 2008.

Along with widely reported projects like the Republican National Committee's "72-Hour Task Force" or the Democratic National Committee's monthlong "50-State Turnout" campaign, other GOTV efforts have included the AFL-CIO "Final Four" project, in which 100,000 union volunteers between Saturday and Tuesday in a number of states were set to visit at home or work and call as many "drop-off" voters as possible - union members who voted in 2004, but not in 2002's midterms.

Smaller-scale, local efforts include campaigns within school systems to inform kids about the elections and essentially get them to lobby their parents to vote on Tuesday. In the Detroit area, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, along with putting up 2,700 GOTV posters around town, is also distributing leaflets to elementary school children that they can take home to parents.

Reflecting the widespread embrace of online video and viral marketing techniques in GOTV campaigns, the New York City school system on Friday planned to show its students an animated movie produced by BrainPOP called Take your parents to vote, which features cartoons of school chancellor Joel Klein and hip-hop producer Russell Simmons. The idea is that "kids would understand the importance of voting and go home and remind their parents." said BrainPOP founder Dr. Avraham Kadar.

Of course, many GOTV efforts go back months. The US Chamber of Commerce has been providing template Web sites for its members to customize with information about local candidates and their stances on various issues. In addition, GOTV efforts this year have often involved a campaign technique called "micro-targeting." With this, election campaign groups merge voter databases with consumer databases to more precisely identify specific types of voters: Hispanic women aged 25 to 34, for instance, or the drop-off union voters AFL-CIO covets.

In the past, micro-targeting has been the purview almost exclusively of the national Republican and Democratic campaign organizations because of its expense and complexity, but "the economies of scale have come down so that some outside groups are able to do it, too," said Chad Mitchell, Chamber of Commerce executive director of grassroots and advocacy.

But the growing availability of micro-targeting, which is not an exact science, also poses a threat to campaigns, noted Jamie McKown, professor of government and policy at the College of the Atlantic. Federal election rules generally prohibit coordination among organizations running GOTV campaigns, creating the danger of one individual receiving calls from multiple organizations.

"You may be candidate Y and call John Smith about gun rights, but not gay rights, but another group [supporting your candidacy] calls about gay rights, and then you lose that voter" through conflicting messages, McKown said. "You don't want to duplicate [efforts or put] out mixed messages."

Also a likely subject of post-election discussion is the effectiveness of Internet-related campaigns compared with old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing and phone calling. Dittus Communications president and CEO Gloria Dittus said successful GOTV has always hinged on personal connections, so an Internet-savvy person actively participating in a blogger community may value the opinions of others in that community as much as that of friends or family.

"But if you're just monitoring it for information's sake and aren't a part of it, then the jury's out," Dittus said.

Whatever the outcome, expect campaigners to tout their success and overlook their failures, she said: "There will be a lot of revisionist talk."

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