Does Targeted Campaign Message Impact Vote Intention and Vote Choice? An Experimental Study of Alabama Seniors
Type of Degreedissertation
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Conventional wisdom and the huge amount of money spent by political campaigns in the United States hold that multiple targeted messages influence voter turnout and voter vote choice. Prior studies have focused primarily on voter mobilization with only a few studies testing for a persuasion effect. Additionally, there are very few field experiments that test targeted messages in direct democratic elections such as referendum campaigns. This dissertation expands the literature in those areas by reporting the results of a statewide randomized field experiment conducted during a 2003 nonpartisan special election in Alabama that included 5,000 registered senior voters aged 65 and older. Both a preference effect and a mobilization effect were hypothesized to exist when senior voters received targeted salient biased messages through direct mail and prerecorded phone calls. There were five treatment groups and a control group. One treatment group received one targeted direct mail message, another received two targeted messages via direct mail, and a third received three targeted messages—two via direct mail and one through a prerecorded call. Another treatment group received one generic message and one targeted message by direct mail and yet another group received only the generic message. The structure of the experiment allows not only for a comparison of each group to the control group, but also a comparison between groups to test the effectiveness of targeted messages over generic messages and to test the impact of multiple messages over a single message. While a voter recall effect was found in that more-educated seniors were more likely to indicate they recalled messages from the campaign, none of the treatments resulted in a detectable mobilization or persuasion effect. However the lack of statistical power may be the most significant limitation in detecting small effects. Additionally, this dissertation provides a discussion regarding variables field researchers should consider when attempting to control for extraneous influences. Similarly, this dissertation advocates for using the terms biased and unbiased related to the types of messages delivered during experiments rather than the possibly confusing partisan and nonpartisan. Implications for both academic researchers and campaign professionals are discussed.