A few GOTV thoughts

A few odds and ends on the election and GOTV that I wanted to write down.

  • I was heavily involved in “get out the vote” (GOTV) efforts in Durham N.C. for the Obama campaign, as I was in 2008.
  • We were thinking we needed a +85,000-90,000 vote margin for the President in Durham county for him to have a chance to win the state. He ended up with ~76,000 margin before provisionals, up from ~71,000 in 2008, but a bit short of our goal. He lost N.C. by ~100,000 votes.
  • Turnout was lower in Durham County this time (~68% v. ~75% in 2008).
  • Turnout was disappointingly low in some key precincts for the President to have had a chance at +85,000-90,000. In particular, precincts 05, 13-15, and 18 were disappointing (05 less than 50% and the others lower than 60%).
  • We tried to have consistency in canvassing (door to door turnout appeals). I walked and knocked on doors of the same turf in the same precinct the last 4 Friday late afternoons/evenings of the campaign, in each case seeking to talk to ~50 voters in that turf who had been identified by a statistical model as the ~50 people least likely to vote in that turf, who had expressed preference for President Obama in some way. The first Friday was the week prior to early voting, and the last 3 were during early voting when I had a driver to call to provide a ride immediately if someone was willing to go and vote. Once someone voted, they dropped off the knock list (electronically updated within about 24 hours using online election board data). So, all the people weren’t always the same, but in some cases I personally talked to the same person 3 or 4 times before they actually voted. Some essentially voted out of self preservation (Oh, you again).
  • During the last week of early voting, my colleague Gunter Peck developed a brilliant idea for a canvassing/drive operation–the Durham bus terminal. We asked people if they wanted a ride to the early vote stop that was near the bus terminal, and drove people to vote and back to the bus stop, typically before their connecting bus left. On election day, we canvassed and drove people from the bus terminal to vote and then their job in the morning, and in the afternoon/evening typically to vote and then to their home. We knew where to drive them by simply checking the online voter registration database (took about 30 seconds per voter). We had ~10 and 25 canvassers/drivers at the bus terminal on election day depending upon the time, and drove several hundred people, most of whom had no plan to vote, but who were registered supporters of the President.
  • A canvass/drive operation like this will work best where you have an aggregation of voters with almost unanimous support for your candidate. I would guess about 95% of the folks riding the bus in Durham were Obama supporters, and our goal was to increase the likelihood they voted.
  • The bottom line of GOTV is to be willing to engage individuals and to ask them for their vote. In this way, I understand GOTV to be a sign of respect–that a person is worthy of being asked for their support. Asking actual people to vote and making it as easy as possible is the key to GOTV.

It was a disappointing loss, but we new it would be hard to repeat the narrow win of 2008 (President Obama won by ~14,000 votes out of 4.3 Million cast). N.C. was the closest win for President Obama in 2008 as well as the closest win for Gov. Romney in 2012. All in all, working on the campaign was important and fun.

update: edited for clarity.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University https://academiccouncil.duke.edu/ . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

3 Responses to A few GOTV thoughts

  1. Frank Hill says:

    You know what the GOP ‘concept’ of getting out the vote is, Professor Taylor? Hoping that at least some of them will somehow turn the golf cart from the 18th hole down the road to the early voting site before returning to hit a few more practice balls and then heading to the 19th hole for a few cold beers.

    You are to be commended for your hard work. I wish more thoughtful conservatives would put forth the same effort one day.

  2. Pingback: The potential impact of one voting change in Durham, N.C. | freeforall

  3. Pingback: The potential impact of one voting change in Durham, N.C. « The Reality-Based Community

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