MPSA Update 2: Field Experiments to try to get young people registered

The second set of papers that I think our readership will be interested in can be accessed here:

Facebook friends have already seen (and responded to) my comments on the paper by Mann and by Bennion and Nickerson (Nickerson is not listed in the program but is definitely a co-author).   In both cases, the research teams were interested in seeing whether lowering the costs of voter registration would result in a higher take up rate.  Both examined young people (in one case, women turning 18, in the other, college students).

I’d like to tell you the answer is “yes,” but my impressions from the presentations is that the real answer is “yes but not by very much.”  According to Mann, the voter mobilization treatment that he utilized–basically a voter registration form with preprinted information–was more cost effective than any other method in encouraging citizens to register and then to vote.  Still, Mann estimates a net cost per new registration of $13.20 in 2006 and $31.90 in 2008.  This may be cheaper than party and candidate managed GOTV campaigns, but it’s not something election administrators will able to afford.

Bennion and Nickerson explored the role of an online fillable registration form, vs. a requirement to print, fill out, and mail back a PDF.  Like Mann, their target population was college students (nearly 300,000 were in the study).   They find that having the online form does increase registration, and argue in the paper that states should adopt online registration as a best practice.  However, when you delve within the statistics, you’ll discover that the effect is pretty small.  To quote: “In other words, for every 100,000 students emailed a link to the Secretary of State’s site, 900 students registered who would have otherwise remained unregistered.”