WHO WE ARE
Progressive Turnout Project is a grassroots-funded organization with a single mission: get Democrats to the polls. We design, test, and execute specialized voter turnout programs targeting inconsistent Democratic voters in the most competitive districts in the country.
And Why That
Turnout in the 2014 election was the lowest in 70 years and Democrats didn’t just lose—we got crushed. That’s not a coincidence. When voter turnout is low, the composition of the electorate dramatically changes.
In the 2014 election, turnout was just 36.7% nationally, but it was far lower among key Democratic constituencies: young people, minorities and low-income people1. More than 44 million eligible voters of color did not vote and 66 million eligible voters earning less than $50,000 did not vote2.
There are a lot of reasons for this divide in turnout. Many sporadic voters are more mobile and therefore less involved in community and social networks that encourage voting. This makes it harder for campaigns to contact these individuals and makes them less likely to vote overall3. Many of them are disenfranchised by overly restrictive voting laws or unable to go to the polls because they work multiple jobs.
However, it means that when turnout is high, the electorate is more liberal, and when turnout is low, the electorate is more conservative. So without either persuading more of that smaller group of regular voters to vote for Democrats or turning those sporadic voters into regular voters, Democrats aren’t going to be able to hold a majority in Congress any time soon.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Our focus on turnout stems from our teams belief that getting Democrats to the polls is the most effective way to win elections. We’re part of a proud tradition of progressives using data and behavioral science to hone campaign strategy. We synthesize existing research and run our own experiments on new tactics to make sure our programs have the largest return on investment possible.
What Other People Do: TV Ads, Persuasion and Rules of Thumb
Traditional wisdom says that campaigns should focus their resources on persuading regular voters to cast their ballot for a specific candidate instead of worrying about turnout. They believe that the best tool to persuade those regular voters is TV advertising and that belief is reflected in the way campaigns spend their money. In 2014, congressional campaigns spent the majority of their budgets, more than 320 million dollars, running a mixture of positive and negative TV ads on broadcast television in the few weeks leading up to the election4.
Unfortunately, there’s very little evidence that broadcast TV reaches those targeted voters or works to persuade them when it does. A study conducted by Google found that 75% of the ads congressional campaigns ran in 2014 didn’t even air in the candidate’s district due to the way media markets are shaped5. Even worse? Studies show that it’s nearly impossible for a TV ad to make someone switch their vote6.
1McDonald, Michael. “2014G – United States Elections Project.” United States Elections Project. University of Florida. Web. 24 Feb. 2016. <https://www.electproject.org/2014g>.
2McElwee, Sean. Why The Voting Gap Matters. Rep. New York: Demos, 2014. Print.
3Pillsbury, George, and Julian Johanssen. America Goes to the Polls 2014. Rep. New York: Nonprofit Vote, 2014. Print.
4Trujillo, Mario. “Google, Digital Firm Warn against Waste of Political Broadcast Ads.” TheHill. The Hill, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
5Trujillo, Mario. “Google, Digital Firm Warn against Waste of Political Broadcast Ads.” TheHill. The Hill, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
6Spenkuch, Jorg, and David Toniatti. “To Rally Your Base, Buy Air Time.” Kellogg Insight. Northwestern University, 4 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
7Green, Donald P., and Alan S. Gerber. Get out the Vote!: How to Increase Voter Turnout. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2012. 139-40. Print.
8Issenberg, Sasha. The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. New York: Crown, 2012. 12-13. Print.
What We Do: Data, Data, Data and Turnout
Our focus on turnout stems from our team’s belief that getting Democrats to the polls is the most effective way to win elections. We’re part of a proud tradition of progressives using data and behavioral science to hone campaign strategy. We synthesize existing research and run our own experiments on new tactics to make sure our programs have the largest return on investment possible.
Decades of research has shown that one-on-one voter contact is the best way to get Democrats to the polls. For example, experiments have shown that having conversations at the door increases turnout more than 7 percent and makes a lasting impact on voting behavior7. Sending voters their own voting record or their community’s voting record has been proven to increase turnout as much as 6 to 8 percent8. Check out more of our tactics and research initiatives here: