New Orleans What a week! It was pretty much a full-on-Trump-arade! Rarely have we read or heard so many pundits wringing their hands and tearing their hair since they were forced to walk-back the headlines they had already written in 2016 crowning Hillary Clinton the winner. The general consensus after the inevitable and long expected impeachment acquittal and the gut punch surprise of the Iowa meltdown is that we now have Trump Unleashed. Turns out Trump 2.0 is is not totally different from Trump 1.0, but if it can get worse, it will get worse. Many are coming to grips with the fact that has also been obvious for quite some time: Trump could win in 2020! In fact, some of the observers are already throwing in the towel after this worse week ever.
All of which found me going back and re-reading an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago by Hugo Percier, a cognitive scientist in Paris who was opining about whether political campaigns change minds. Here’s a spoiler alert: no, not much. For those who are hyperventilating about the huge war chest that President Trump has already assembled, take a deep breath. Percier relies heavily on extensive mail surveys conducted by Professor Alan Gerber of Yale University who found that campaign mail had almost no impact. He looked at other studies that focused on advertising and concluded that ads had no impact, except perhaps in primary campaigns where voters are still searching. Percier doesn’t want to leave social media out of the equation and cites a study of social media ads done by researchers at Google and Microsoft who concluded the persuasive impact of such ads is so small they couldn’t come to a clear conclusion that it changed minds. The heart of Percier’s argument was that for the most part when people find a message that challenges their views, on a candidate for example, the first reaction is to reject it. The only exception, importantly, is “when provided with the right reasons by the right people, however, we do change our minds.”
The only place that really happens is on the doors in direct person-to-person conversations. How do people know? Well, from watching ACORN. The same Professor Alan Gerber of Yale and Professor Donald Green of Columbia note the effectiveness of such work in a 2016 jointly authored paper entitled, “Field Experiments in Voter Mobilization: An Overview of Burgeoning Literature”:
Two experiments conducted in 2003 gave early indications that advocacy campaigns could be quite effective in mobilizing voters. In Kansas City, the ACORN organizationcanvassed extensively in predominantly African American precincts. Its aim was to identify and mobilize those supportive of a ballot measure designed to preserve local bus service. Unlike most other canvassing experiments, this one was randomized at the level of the precinct, with fourteen assigned to the treatment group and fourteen to the control group. Among voters assigned to control precincts (N = 4,779), turnout was29.1 percent, compared to 33.5 percent in the treatment group, 62.7 percent of whom were contacted (Arceneaux 2005). At roughly the same time, ACORN canvassed in Phoenix on behalf of a ballot measure to determine the future of the county hospital (Villa and Michelson 2005). ACORN conducted two rounds of canvassing, the first to identify voters sympathetic to the ballot measure and a second to urge supportive voters to vote. The canvassing effort targeted voters with Latino surnames who had voted in at least one of the previous four elections. ACORN made multiple attempts to contact voters (including making a small number of phone calls), the result being that 71 percent of those living in one-voter households were contacted at least once. This figure rose to 80 percent among two-voter households. This mobilization campaign had a powerful effect on turnout. Among one-personhouseholds, turnout rose from 7.4 percent in the control group (N = 473) to 15.9 percent in the treatment group (N = 2,666). Among two-person households, turnout rose from 6.9 percent in the control group (N = 72) to 21.0 percent in the treatment group (N = 2,550).
You get the message? Don’t mourn, organize! And, more to the point, get out on the doors, have person-to-person conversations, and move people to the polls to vote in their own interest for change. Snooze, and we all lose. Hit the doors, and we win.