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If We Build It, Only Some Will Come: An Experimental Study of Mobilization for Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2020

Geoffrey Henderson*
Department of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA, Twitter: @geoffhenderson9 Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA
Hahrie Han
Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA, Twitter: @hahriehan
*Corresponding author. Email:


Seattle, Washington instituted a new “democracy voucher” program in 2017 providing each registered voter with four $25 campaign finance vouchers to contribute to municipal candidates. Prior research shows that without efforts to mobilize voters, electoral reforms like the voucher program are often insufficient to increase participation among underrepresented groups. We examine how mobilization affects the voucher program’s redistributive goals – does it increase participation among infrequent voters, or does it engage regular participants in politics? In the 2017 election cycle, we partnered with a coalition of advocacy organizations on a field experiment to estimate the effects of providing voters with information about democracy vouchers through door-to-door canvassing, texting, digital advertisements, and e-mails. While mobilization increased voucher use and voter turnout, responsiveness was greatest among frequent voters. As our findings suggest that transactional mobilizing is insufficient to engage infrequent participants, we posit that deeper organizing is necessary to fulfill the program’s redistributive goals.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association

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We would like to thank our research partners the Win/Win Network, Washington Community Action Network, and Fuse Washington for implementing the field experiment and providing the data necessary for the analysis reported in this paper. We also wish to acknowledge the Analyst Institute, whose open-source R package entitled aiRando we used for the randomization procedure. Christopher Mann provided invaluable advice on research design and analysis at an early stage of the project, and Patrick Hunnicutt provided helpful input on the implementation of the randomization procedure and the analysis. Our paper has also benefited from comments from Mark Buntaine and David Doherty, as well as from participants in the Field Experiments course at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB); the ENVENT Lab at UCSB; and the American Politics Workshop at UCSB. Last but not least, we thank the anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Experimental Political Science for their thoughtful advice. Geoffrey Henderson received a stipend of $6,500 from the Win/Win Network for his work on this project. The pre-analysis plan for this study can be accessed at The data, code, and any additional materials required to replicate all analyses in this article are available at the Journal of Experimental Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at: doi: 10.7910/DVN/VPIZA.


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