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Study Shows How to Increase Low-Income and Ethnic Voter Turnout

New America Media, News Report, Viji Sundaram Posted: Oct 10, 2008

Editor's Note: Results of a multi-year, non-partisan study by the James Irvine Foundation as part of its California Votes Initiative could offer a way to induce registered immigrant and low-income voters to go to the polls on Election Day. Viji Sundaram is an editor at New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCO Personal contact, rather than mailers or pre-recorded phone calls, is the best way to increase voter turnout in low-income and ethnic communities, says a report from The James Irvine Foundation released recently.

Indirect methods such as sending out postcards or announcing from pulpits make "very little difference," according to Jim Keddy, director of Californias Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO), one of nine community groups that contributed to the study.

Launched in January 2006 under the California Votes Initiative, the study was conducted in Central and Southern California and involved ten of thousands of registered voters, according to Melissa Michelson, an associate professor at California State University East Bay. Michelson evaluated the study with two other researchers, Lisa Garcia Bedolla of the University of California at Berkeley, and Donald P. Green of Yale University.

The goal was to decrease voter disparity at the polls and share best practices in nonpartisan voter mobilization, according to Amy Dominguez-Arms, California Perspectives Program director for The James Irvine Foundation.

"The bottom line is that the voices of certain communities are not represented as fully as others in public decision making and, as a result our democracy is not functioning as it should," notes James Canales, president of the foundation.

A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that while whites represent only 47 percent of Californias adult population, they constitute 70 percent of likely voters.

Using a control group that received no contact from outreach workers, researchers looked at voter turnout in the June 2006 election and found that the voters who had been contacted by volunteers were more likely to go to the polls on Election Day. Researchers identified the same trend in the 2008 primary election in California.

Voters were contacted by bilingual volunteers who could speak to them in the language most comfortable for them.

Door-to-door efforts by 100 Burbank High School students recruited for the study in Meadowview, a low-income neighborhood of Sacramento, increased voter turnout in that community in the Feb. 5, 2008 election by14 percent, Keddy said. An increase of nearly 13 percent was seen in the largely Latino neighborhood of Winters, Calif. Outreach workers were carefully selected and trained for the study, and then sent out into communities that shared their own zip codes. The study found that when voters knew the canvasser personally, they were more likely to vote.

One important finding of the study was that campaigners did best when they contacted voters in the final four weeks of the campaign. Going to the field too early can decrease the campaign's effectiveness, Michelson says.

Dominguez-Arms says campaign workers may be able to use these findings to sway voters who are registered as independent. "Very often, parties don't reach out to them," she observes.

Outreach organizations that contributed to the study include the Pacific Institute for Community Organization, California Public Interest Research Group, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

Researchers will continue the voter turnout study through the November 2008 presidential elections.

Related Articles:

New America Media Launches Campaign Urging Voters to Bring Proper Identification to The Voting Booth So Their Votes Will CountHEADLINE

Why 8 Million African Americans Are Not Registered to Vote

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