Nav: Home

'Mobilization fatigue' leads to diminishing returns for labor-backed voter turnout drives

April 18, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Between now and the presidential election in November, political pundits of all stripes will be trumpeting the importance of voter turnout for both political parties. But according to a new paper from a University of Illinois labor expert who studies unions and politics, repeated voter contact across multiple election cycles can yield diminishing returns and eventually lead to "mobilization fatigue" if voters are contacted too often.

Ryan Lamare, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois, found the effects of continued voter mobilization by organized labor groups eventually yields turnout results that grow at a declining and then insignificant marginal rate.

"If you contact a registered voter three, four or five times, that person will go to the polls and vote in the election. But they're no more likely to vote than someone who was contacted only once or twice," Lamare said. "People appear to get tired of always getting asked over and over again to go out to the polls."

The study, published in the journal Industrial Relations, examined a sample of more than 85,000 individual registered voters in Los Angeles over the 14 months prior to each of five consecutive elections in which as many as five contacts could occur before each election. In each election, labor and community organizations attempted to increase turnout by phoning and visiting both union members and other registered voters. Voter turnout was measured through public records rather than survey responses.

Lamare found that three or more contacts by organized labor yielded no more voter turnout than one or two contacts.

"Mobilization beyond two contacts was inefficient, though the costs of voter canvassing, both in terms of contact opportunities lost and resources drained, remained high," he said.

For organized labor and its substantial get-out-the-vote ambitions in elections, it all comes down to strategic resource allocation, Lamare said.

"The question organized labor needs to ask when they're spending their limited pool of money is, 'Should we strategically invest in making a fourth or fifth contact, or do we invest anew in someone whom we've not contacted before?'" he said. "From my analysis, it would appear that they're better off knocking on a new person's door. Unions certainly won't be penalized for knocking a third, fourth or fifth time on someone's door, but there is a marginal loss in doing that relative to what they might have gained by canvassing someone new."

The timeliness of contact also matters. Lamare also found that recent voter contact was more effective than contact that occurred in a previous election cycle.

"You do get different responses over a five-election cycle," he said. "If you contacted someone once five elections ago, that's not going to generate the same effect as contacting someone once in the immediate prior election. So one shouldn't assume that just because you contacted someone a year and a half ago, it will be just as effective as going out and getting someone that first time around in the most recent election. The timing of the contact makes a difference."

The findings may be of strategic relevance to a labor movement heavily involved with the U.S. political process and increasingly invested, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in voter mobilization.

"If unions aspire to influence U.S. politics and a key facet of their influence is an investment in voter mobilization, then they might be better off strategically targeting a broader spectrum of voters only once or twice across multiple rapid-succession elections rather than returning to the same narrow groups of individuals repeatedly," Lamare said.

In an economic and political climate in which every dollar counts, the findings may hold considerable sway in the calculus of creating voter-mobilization strategies, Lamare said.

"Unions serve a pretty unique function in politics. They're not just another special-interest group," he said. "They have very unique access and resources that they can use to contact and canvass voters over multiple rounds of elections. They have members that they can contact and canvass in multiple election cycles, whereas many parties and interest groups don't have that sort of access to that sort of consistent cohort of potential voters that they can tap into."

Another reason to study canvassing by labor groups is that unions can be considered a far-reaching voice for "nonelites" within the political process and a crucial counterweight to the influence of big business and other moneyed interests, Lamare said.

"Unions can't match the aggregate contributions of corporations, but relative to any individual investment made on either side of the political spectrum, unions can orchestrate a significant investment that does stand in opposition to what big business might be interested in."

But if they invest unwisely, if they get those resource allocations wrong, then unions can be seen as "fumbling their responsibilities as a counterbalance to the elites," Lamare said.

"So it's about resources and resource scarcity. With increasing resource scarcity, these types of questions become increasingly important for unions, who can't afford to be inefficient with how they allocate their limited resources," he said. "By understanding how voters respond and the mobilization fatigue phenomenon, labor unions can make better use of lean resources."
-end-
Editor's notes: To contact Ryan Lamare, call 217-244-6241; email rlamare@illinois.edu.

The paper "Labor Unions and Political Mobilization: Diminishing Returns of Repetitious Contact" is available online.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Labor Articles:

Researchers identify drugs that could halt preterm labor
Researchers have discovered a common molecular pathway in women who experience preterm labor and are using this insight to develop new treatments for woman who experience early labor.
Labor after previous cesarean should be considered
Labor after cesarean may be successful in over 90% of cases and thus may be considered a reasonable option for both mother and child, a study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth suggests.
Study shows lower mortality from induction of labor at 41 weeks
Inducing labor after 41 instead of 42 full weeks' pregnancy appears to be safer in terms of perinatal survival, new Swedish research shows.
Imaging test may help predict the success of labor induction
When labor is induced in pregnant women, one in five women will require an emergency cesarean section.
Researchers create first-ever 'map' of global labor flow
A new study from Indiana University reveals the ebb and flow of labor -- as well as industries and skills -- across the global economy using data on 130 million job transitions among 500 workers on the world's largest professional social network, LinkedIn.
How much would you pay to eliminate child labor from your cocoa?
An increase in cocoa price by 2.8% could potentially eliminate the very worst forms of child labor from cocoa production in Ghana, according to a new economic model described in a study published June 5, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jeff Luckstead and Lawton L.
To tackle child labor, start with consumers
A new study by SMU Assistant Professor Fang Xin finds evidence that educating consumers about the social impact of their purchases can help reduce child labor in global supply chains.
Induced labor not more expensive to health care system than spontaneous labor
The results of a joint study between University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare show inducing labor one week early costs the same as waiting for spontaneous labor.
Better labor practices could improve archaeological output
In a new paper, 'Essential Excavation Experts: Alienation and Agency in the History of Archaeological Labor,' published in Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress, archaeologist AllisonMickel illuminates the ways that nineteenth century archaeologists working in the Middle East managed local labor in ways that reflected capitalist labor management models.
When it comes to hearing words, it's a division of labor between our brain's two hemispheres
Scientists have uncovered a new 'division of labor' between our brain's two hemispheres in how we comprehend the words and other sounds we hear -- a finding that offers new insights into the processing of speech and points to ways to address auditory disorders.
More Labor News and Labor Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.