I’ve written earlier about the importance of social capital in changing votes and mobilizing voters (see for example this post).
One interesting technological example of “alloy social capital” (blending the silicon of the web with the flesh of face-to-face interactions) was MoveOn’s 2004 mobilization campaign for John Kerry. They worked in collaboration with the DNC and MoveOn’s e-mail list and tried to get people mobilized into talking face-to-face with uncommitted neighbors. Don Green, a skilled and careful researcher at Yale, found that it was effective in the campaign.
They analyzed over 40,000 voters across nine swing states and showed that contact with MoveOn volunteers boosted voter turnout by approximately seven percentage points (a large and statistically significant impact). Don Green and co-author Joel Middleton note that “This finding corroborates experimental findings showing the effectiveness of door-to-door canvassing but contradicts results suggesting that such mobilization is ineffective in the context of high-salience elections.”
Moreover, the impact of these contacts is larger than one would think. Much in the same way as dollars spent in the economy have a ripple effect, other research has shown a multiplier effect on friends persuaded, as they in turn persuade others.
MoveOn is now fervently working on its ’08 mobilization effort but asserts that this neighbor-to-neighbor mobilization will be at the heart of their approach this year and is actively fundraising to support this effort. MoveOn says that it was effective precisely because of the “social capital” although they don’t use that phrase. They state: It was effective “[b]ecause instead of hiring canvassers to knock on every door in a city, we asked MoveOn volunteers to talk to the folks who lived near them. Neighbors talked to neighbors. Friends talked to friends. The result: The Yale researchers found it was the most effective program ever measured in a presidential election, and one of the strongest ever in any election, 45% more effective than an average door-to-door voter turnout program.”
See Joel A. Middleton and Donald P. Green, “Do Community-Based Voter Mobilization Campaigns Work Even in Battleground States? Evaluating the Effectiveness of MoveOn’s 2004 Outreach Campaign,” unpublished paper.