Political Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 4, December 2001 ( 2002)
THE LIMITS OF MOBILIZATION: Turnout
Evidence from State House Primaries
Many analysts have lamented the decline of political mobilization efforts. They suggest
that the cause of worsening voter turnout may be traceable to the failure of political
candidates and political parties to target and activate nonvoters. This research ex-
plores the effects of face-to-face mobilization efforts in a sample of September 5, 2000,
Florida state house primary races. Controlling for their voting history, the face-to-face
mobilization effort did increase turnout by about 8% among those contacted. How-
ever, the effects were weakest among those who voted least regularly. The results
suggest that implementing more face-to-face mobilization efforts would increase turn-
out—mostly by encouraging occasional voters to go to the polls. However, those same
mobilization efforts would not substantially affect the turnout of chronic nonvoters.
Key words: voter turnout; mobilization; state legislative elections; primaries.
U.S. presidential elections now routinely draw only half of the electorate to
the polls on election day. Perhaps even more startling, elections without the
presidency at stake attract voters at a rate ranging from less than 40% when
Congress is at the top of the ballot to under 20% for municipal or primary
Overall, the United States ranks near the bottom in turnout among
all industrialized democracies (Teixeira, 1992).
A significant number of analysts point to mobilization of voters as the most
promising means of addressing low levels of voter turnout. This study exam-
ines the effect of face-to-face mobilization efforts undertaken in a sample of
September 5, 2000, Florida state house primary races. I explore the relative
effects of those mobilization efforts on the turnout of regular voters versus
those who vote infrequently.
David Niven, Department of Political Science, Florida Atlantic University, P. O. Box 3091,
Boca Raton, FL 33431 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
0190-9320/01/1200-0335/0 2002 Plenum Publishing Corporation