Unresponsive and Unpersuaded: The Unintended Consequences of Voter Persuasion Efforts
Can randomized experiments at the individual level help assess the persuasive effects of campaign tactics? In the contemporary U.S., vote choice is not observable, so one promising research design involves randomizing appeals and then using a survey to measure vote intentions. Here, we analyze one such field experiment conducted during the 2008 presidential election in which 56,000 registered voters were assigned to persuasion in person, by phone, and/or by mail. Persuasive appeals by canvassers had two unintended consequences. First, they reduced responsiveness to the follow-up survey, lowering the response rate sharply among infrequent voters. Second, various statistical methods to address the resulting biases converge on a counterintuitive conclusion: the persuasive canvassing reduced candidate support. Our results allow us to rule out even small effects in the intended direction and illustrate the backlash that attempts at inter-personal persuasion can engender.
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