Get out the vote
||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
|Part of the Politics series|
"Get out the vote" (or "getting out the vote"; GOTV) are terms used to describe two categories of political activity, both aimed at increasing the number of votes cast in one or more elections. In countries that do not have mandatory voting, voter turnout can be low, sometimes even below a third of the eligible voter pool. Campaigns typically attempt to register voters, then get them to vote, either by absentee ballot, early voting or election day voting.
In contexts of the efforts of candidates, party activities and ballot measure campaigns, "get-out-the-vote" or "GOTV" is an adjective indicating having the effect of increasing the number of the campaign's supporters who will vote in the immediately approaching election. (As a noun, "get out the vote" or "GOTV" is shorthand for either "get-out-the-vote activities" or "the previously planned get-out-the-vote portion of our campaign".)
Typically GOTV is distinct phase of the overall campaign. Tactics used during GOTV often include: telephoning or sending personalized audio messages to known supporters on the days leading up to an election (or on election day itself), providing transport to and from polling stations for supporters, and canvassing known supporters. Canvassing for the purpose of Voter identification usually ceases when GOTV begins.
Other GOTV activities include literature drops early on election day or the evening before and an active tracking of eligible voters who have already voted.
The importance of get out the vote efforts increases as the total percentage of the population voting decreases. For instance, with only two-thirds of the population voting in a Canadian election it is often easier and more cost effective to ensure that a hundred supporters show up on polling day than it is to convince a hundred voters to switch support from one party to the other. This situation often leads to polarized electoral politics. A 90% turnout from a party's radical base is often better than a 50 percent turnout from both radical and moderate supporters.
GOTV can also be important in high turn-out elections when the margin of victory is expected to be close.
In nonpartisan contexts, "Get out the vote" is a slogan used by organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, The Voter Participation Center and Long Distance Voter, motivated by the belief that failure of any eligible voter to vote in any election entails a loss to society. This is an example of issue advocacy. The issue is getting people to vote, and the group is nonpartisan provided they are not directing people how to vote.
To remain nonpartisan groups like these cannot distribute literature about candidates or causes when signing up voters. They also cannot focus their efforts on one type of possible voter that is most likely to agree with their own personal views.
The traditional GOTV method used in the UK is the Reading system, developed by the Reading Constituency Labour Party and its MP Ian Mikardo for the 1945 general election. Once canvassing was performed to identify likely Labour voters, these were compiled onto 'Reading pads' or 'Mikardo sheets' featuring the names and addresses of supporters and pasted onto a large table or plank of wood. On election day these lists, with identical copies underneath, were torn off and given to GOTV campaigners. Lists of this type are sometimes referred to as Shuttleworths.
At each polling station, tellers for each party will collect the unique poll numbers of voters from their polling cards. These numbers are regularly collected from the polling stations and collated in a campaign headquarters for each ward, often referred to in the UK as a committee room. 'Promised voters' who have already voted are then crossed off the list of voters canvassed as supporting Labour. This enables campaigners to then focus more efficiently on the remainder of their supporters who have not voted. Computerisation has heralded further increases in efficiency, but nearly all subsequent methodologies can be traced back in some form to the Reading system.
Negative campaigning and voter suppression
The terminology reflects a distinction of GOTV from the complementary strategy of suppressing turnout among likely opposition voters. Political consultants are reputed to privately advise some candidates to "go negative" (attack an opponent), without any intent to sway voters toward them: this plan is to instead increase the number of eligible voters who fail to vote, because their tendency to believe "politics is inherently corrupt" has so recently been reinforced. Such turnout suppression can be advantageous where any combination of three conditions apply:
- The negative campaigning is targeted (by direct mail, telephone "push polls," or the like) on likely opposing voters, reducing the collateral damage to supporters' morale.
- The side going negative has an advantage in its supporters being steadier voters than those of its opponent.
- The side going negative has an advantage in doing effective GOTV, so that its campaign workers can get a GOTV "antidote" to more supporters "poisoned" by the negative campaign, than the opposing campaign can of their own supporters.
- Canvassing, an integral precursor to a GOTV operation.
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- Last updated June 23, 2010 Share Email Print (2010-06-23). "Absentee Voting Made Easy". LongDistanceVoter.org. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- How to Win an Election, Paul Richards, Second Edition, p. 88