Skip to main content

Aggregate Effects of Large-Scale Campaigns on Voter Turnout

  • Ryan D. Enos and Anthony Fowler

To what extent do political campaigns mobilize voters? Despite the central role of campaigns in American politics and despite many experiments on campaigning, we know little about the aggregate effects of an entire campaign on voter participation. Drawing upon inside information from presidential campaigns and utilizing a geographic research design that exploits media markets spanning state boundaries, we estimate the aggregate effects of a large-scale campaign. We estimate that the 2012 presidential campaigns increased turnout in highly targeted states by 7–8 percentage points, on average, indicating that modern campaigns can significantly alter the size and composition of the voting population. Further evidence suggests that the predominant mechanism behind this effect is traditional ground campaigning, which has dramatically increased in scale in the last few presidential elections. Additionally, we find no evidence of diminishing marginal returns to ground campaigning, meaning that voter contacts, each likely exhibiting small individual effects, may aggregate to large effects over the course of a campaign.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Aggregate Effects of Large-Scale Campaigns on Voter Turnout
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Aggregate Effects of Large-Scale Campaigns on Voter Turnout
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Aggregate Effects of Large-Scale Campaigns on Voter Turnout
      Available formats
Hide All

Ryan D. Enos, Associate Professor, Department of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 ( Anthony Fowler, Assistant Professor, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago, 1155 East 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 ( Both authors contributed equally. The authors thank Scott Ashworth, Rich Beeson, Chris Berry, David Broockman, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Peter Enns, Susan Fiske, Rayid Ghani, Trey Grayson, Don Green, Andy Hall, Hahrie Han, Eitan Hersh, Greg Huber, Scott Jennings, Bob Kubichek, Mary McGrath, Liz McKenna, Ryan Meerstein, Zac Moffat, Ethan Roeder, Gaurav Shirole, John Sides, Aaron Strauss, Will Howell, and conference participants at ASU, Oxford, and SPSA for helpful comments and insights into the 2012 presidential campaigns. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

Hide All
Alvarez, R. Michael, Hopkins, Asa, and Sinclair, Betsy. 2010. ‘Mobilizing Pasadena Democrats: Measuring the Effects of Partisan Campaign Contacts’. Journal of Politics 72(1):3144.
Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Hersh, Eitan. 2012. ‘Validation: What Big Data Reveal About Survey Misreporting and the Real Electorate’. Political Analysis 20(4):437459.
Ashworth, Scott, and Clinton, Joshua D.. 2007. ‘Does Advertising Exposure Affect Turnout?’. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2(1):2741.
Bond, Robert M., Fariss, Christopher J., Jones, Jason J., Kramer, Adam D. I., Marlow, Cameron, Settle, Jaime E., and Fowler, James H.. 2012. ‘A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization’. Nature 489:295298.
Broockman, David E., and Green, Donald P.. 2014. ‘Do Online Advertisements Increase Political Candidates’ Name Recognition or Favorability? Evidence from Randomized Field Experiments’. Political Behavior 36(2):263289.
Bullock, John G., Green, Donald P., and Ha, Shang E.. 2010. ‘Yes, But What’s the Mechanism? (Don’t Expect an Easy Answer)’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98(4):550558.
Enos, Ryan D., and Fowler, Anthony. 2014. ‘Pivotality and Turnout: Evidence from a Field Experiment in the Aftermath of a Tied Election’. Political Science Research and Methods 2(2):309319.
Enos, Ryan D., Fowler, Anthony, and Vavreck, Lynn. 2014. ‘Increasing Inequality: The Effect of GOTV Mobilization on the Composition of the Electorate’. Journal of Politics 76(1):273288.
Enos, Ryan D., and Hersh, Eitan. 2015. ‘Party Activists as Campaign Advertisers: The Ground Campaign as a Principal-Agent Problem’. American Political Science Review 109(2):252278.
Cardy, Emily Arthur. 2005. ‘An Experimental Field Study of the GOTV and Persuasion Effects of Partisan Direct Mail and Phone Calls’. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 601:2840.
Gelman, Andrew, King, Gary, and Boscardin, W. John. 1998. ‘Estimating the Probability of Events That Have Never Occurred: When is Your Vote Decisive?’. Journal of the American Statistical Association 93(441):19.
Gerber, Alan S., and Green, Donald P.. 2000. ‘The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment’. American Political Science Review 94(3):653663.
Gerber, Alan S., Green, Donald P., and Larimer, Christopher W.. 2008. ‘Social Pressure and Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment’. American Political Science Review 102(1):3348.
Gerber, Alan S., Huber, Gregory A., Dowling, Conor M., Doherty, David, and Schwartzberg, Nicole. 2009. ‘Using Battleground States as a Natural Experiment to Test Theories of Voting’. Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Toronto.
Gerber, Alan S., Huber, Gregory A., Doherty, David, Dowling, Conor M., Raso, Connor, and Ha, Shang E.. 2011. ‘Personality Traits and Participation in Political Processes’. Journal of Politics 73(3):692706.
Green, Donald P., and Gerber, Alan S.. 2008. Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout, second edition. Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC.
Green, Donald P., McGrath, Mary C., and Aronow, Peter M.. 2013. ‘Field Experiments and the Study of Voter Turnout’. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties 23(1):2748.
Hersh, Eitan. 2013. ‘Long-Term Effect of September 11 on the Political Behavior of Victims’ Families and Neighbors’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(52):2095920963.
Hersh, Eitan. 2015. Hacking the Electorate: How Campaigns Perceive Voters. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.
Hoffman, Mitchell, Morgan, John, and Raymond, Collin. 2013. ‘One in a Million: A Field Experiment on Belief Formation and Pivotal Voting’. Working paper presented at the Yale Labor/Public Economics Workshop, New Haven, CT.
Huber, Gregory A., and Arceneaux, Kevin. 2007. ‘Identifying the Persuasive Effects of Presidential Advertising’. American Journal of Political Science 51(4):957977.
Issenberg, Sasha. 2013. ‘A More Perfect Union: How President Obama’s Campaign Used Big Data to Rally Individual Voters’. MIT Technology Review 116(1):4151.
Kendall, Chad, Nannicini, Tommaso, and Trebbi, Francesco. 2015. ‘How Do Voters Respond to Information? Evidence from a Randomized Campaign’. American Economic Review 105(1):322353.
Kim, Jae-On, Petrocik, John, and Enokson, Stephen. 1975. ‘Voter Turnout Among the American States: Systematic and Individual Components’. American Political Science Review 69(1):107123.
Krasno, Jonathan S., and Green, Donald P.. 2008. ‘Do Televised Presidential Ads Increase Voter Turnout? Evidence from a Natural Experiment’. Journal of Politics 70(1):245261.
Malhotra, Neil, Michelson, Melissa R., and Valenzuela, Ali Adam. 2012. ‘Emails from Official Sources can Increase Turnout’. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 7(3):321332.
Michelson, Melissa R., Bedolla, Lisa Garcia, and Green, Donald P.. 2007. ‘New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization’. Report for The James Irvine Foundation, San Francisco, CA.
Myatt, David P. 2012. ‘A Rational Choice Theory of Voter Turnout’. Working paper, London Business School, London, UK.
Nickerson, David W. 2007a. ‘Does Email Boost Turnout?’. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2(4):369379.
Nickerson, David W. 2007b. ‘The Ineffectiveness of E-Vites to Democracy: Field Experiments Testing the Role of E-Mail on Voter Turnout’. Social Science Computer Review 25(4):494503.
Nickerson, David W., and Rogers, Todd. 2014. ‘Political Campaigns and Big Data’. Journal of Economic Perspectives 28(2):5174.
Ramirez, Ricardo. 2005. ‘Giving Voice to Latino Voters: A Field Experiment on the Effectiveness of a National Nonpartisan Mobilization Effort’. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 601:6684.
Riker, William H., and Ordeshook, Peter C.. 1968. ‘A Theory of the Calculus of Voting’. American Political Science Review 62(1):2542.
Schwartz, Thomas. 1987. ‘Your Vote Counts on Account of the Way it is Counted: An Institutional Solution to the Paradox of Voting’. Public Choice 54(2):101121.
Sides, John, and Vavreck, Lynn. 2013. The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Verba, Sidney, Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Brady, Henry E.. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Enos and Fowler supplementary material

 Word (102 KB)
102 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed