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Quality Is Job One: Professional and Volunteer Voter Mobilization Calls


  • The author would like to thank the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Institute for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, and the “Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame” for the generous financial support of this research, the Youth Vote Coalition for its cooperation and teamwork in making the research possible, and Kevin Arceneaux and David Campbell for their helpful commentary.

David W. Nickerson is assistant professor of political science, 217 O'Shaughnessy Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556 (


Campaigns rely upon both paid and volunteer phone calls to mobilize voters. Past field experiments show calls from volunteers to increase turnout and paid calls to be wholly ineffective. This article argues that the quality of phone calls rather than the presence or absence of a payroll explains this regularity. Three aspects of quality are considered: monitoring pace and interactivity, timing, and message. A fully randomized field experiment with over 100,000 subjects comparing professional and volunteer phone banks simultaneously was conducted during the 2002 congressional elections to test this hypothesis. The experiment discovers precisely the opposite relationship of prior research: effective professional phone banks and inefficient volunteer phone calls. The experiment also finds substantial temporal decay. The specific messages appear less important than tone or timing. The implications for the role of campaign consultants, replacing social capital, voter psychology, and the capacities of civic organizations are discussed.