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Experts see high turnout in presidential vote
Unprecedented get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats, Republicans and a host of partisan and non-partisan groups will likely drive turnout in the Nov. 2 presidential election significantly higher than in 2000, political analysts said on Wednesday.
The two parties and various interest groups will spend hundreds of millions of dollars more this year than in 2000, according to Donald Green, a political scientist at Yale University and co-author on a book about turnout.
"We calculate a rough return of one extra vote for every $50 spent on mobilization efforts so an extra $200 million in the system, which may be a reasonable estimate, might produce 4 million new votes," he said.
The exact amount being spent on such efforts is impossible to know because many of the groups doing the spending are not required to disclose the source of their funds. But the anecdotal evidence is impossible to ignore.
"A large number of organizations are putting in money and efforts in a way unlike any mobilization we have seen in the past. We are definitely on track for higher turnout," said Ken Stroupe of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Around 51 percent of the voting age electorate turned out in the 2000 election, 2 percentage points higher than in 1996 but 4 points lower than the 1992 election.
The conventional wisdom is that higher turnout generally helps Democratic candidates because it draws in voters who are younger and less educated -- constituencies that generally favor Democrats. However, that may not happen this year.
"Generalizations cannot be applied this time. Neither party is going about this in a random manner. They are both targeting their efforts. It's a question of which side can bring a larger army to the battlefield," said Green.
Studies have shown that turnout increases with age and education, that married people are much more likely to vote than singles and that married people with children vote in higher proportions than those without.
Both parties have developed sophisticated databases, each with the names of more than 150 million voters and information such as whether a person is married, owns a home and has children; his or her party identification and which past elections a person has voted in.
Democratic national field director Karen Hicks said the party had trained 40,000 volunteers and had already knocked on 6 million doors and made 18 million phone calls asking voters to support John Kerry.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said her party was planning the largest vote mobilization effort in its history.
"We have one million team leaders in every state lined up to turn out their friends, neighbors and relatives. We've learned that's one of the most effective ways to reach out to voters," she said.
Studies confirm the most effective way to increase voter turnout is to have someone visit them in person.
Leaflets and direct mail had a much smaller effect in persuading them to vote and telephone calls were only effective if the caller spent some time and developed a rapport with the respondent.
America Coming Together, an independent group working for Kerry, logged 60,000 hours of door-to-door canvassing last week and planned to spend $10 million getting out the vote out on Election Day alone. The group says it plans to have 45,000 canvassers out on Nov. 2, and it will be paying them $75 each.
Kerry supporters have registered millions of new voters, especially black Americans, while the Bush campaign has targeted churches as a source of new support.
Democrats may have an advantage turning out genuinely new voters because fewer of their natural supporters vote, said Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg.
"Republicans generally have been more reliable voters but this year all the reports suggest the Democratic Party and its allies have a distinct advantage," she said.