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Sunday, September 30, 2012


Combating the Logic: How the Ground Game Increases Voter Turnout

The presidential election, arguably the single most important election in American politics and by far the most wildly publicized, has averaged a voter turnout of just under 54% of the voting age population in the last 20 years. This lack of participation is consistent with Mancur Olson’s The Logic of Collective Action. In fact, given the incredibly miniscule value of a single vote compared to the amount of time and effort an individual must spend to place his vote, I would go so far to say that percentage of participants  is actually much higher than Olson’s Logic would predict. Where does this increase of voter turnout come from? What selective incentives are being applied to increase voter turnout beyond what The Logic would predict?

 Some influence comes from numerous ads published by various sources in the weeks and months leading up to the election, which attempt to sway their viewers into action by appealing to their sense of patriotism and civic duty. However, I would venture that the majority of the incentives  are generated through the actions of local volunteers who actively seek to spread information about their candidate and increase voter turnout on election day. This “ground game” is often the deciding factor in borderline states where the candidates are roughly equal in the polls. Since only about half of the polled populace will turn out for the vote, the question becomes not which way the general populace is leaning, but which party can actually motivate the greater number of their supporters to actually go out and vote.

It appears that this ground game is the result of political parties realizing the same obstacles on voter participation that are outlined in Olson’s Logic. By organizing groups of volunteers and sending them out to organize things like free carpools to the voting stations, each party is attempting to reduce the opportunity cost for those who will vote for their candidate, leading to a greater showing in the general election.  

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