How can voter interest and participation be increased? Many reformers look to the twenty-first century’s panacea to solve this problem: the Internet. Online technology has already proven its value in politics: 95 percent of gubernatorial candidates and 72 percent of Senate candidates from the two major parties ran Websites in 1998. More recently, Sen. John McCain raised more than $5 million over the Internet in his bid for the presidency. And many unions, schools, and businesses have found online voting to be the most efficient and convenient system for casting ballots.

There has also been one closely studied test of Internet voting in an election for national office. In March, when Arizona’s Republican legislature set an inconvenient Democratic primary date, the Democrats decided to hold a private, independently-funded one. This gave them an opportunity to try something unprecedented: an election partly conducted over the Internet. While the primary did not produce any surprises–Gore won easily–it provided a chance to study the Internet’s effect on voting.

Frederic Solop, a professor of political science at Northern Arizona University who examined Internet voting in Arizona, found that 48 percent of votes were cast online and that total participation more than doubled the turnout for Arizona’s 1992 Democratic primary. Solop also found that, contrary to the predictions of some academics, race had no significant effect on public opinion of online elections.

Skeptics of Internet voting suggest that online elections appeal only to people who would vote anyway. Solop thinks his study shows otherwise. “Young voters put more faith in technology than older people,” he found in his public opinion study. “[They] are the ones most excited about Internet voting.” This does not come as a surprise, but it should make critics of Internet voting think twice. The youngest voters are the most disillusioned with politics and, presently, the least likely to participate; if they are enthusiastic about the Internet, maybe digital elections will reverse that trend. But will the participation apparently stimulated by the advent of Internet voting be permanent? Will Internet voters still want to vote this November when the novelty of voting online wears off? Maybe yes. If you hook people to vote once, some political scientists argue, they will keep returning to the polls. A study by two Yale University researchers, Alan Gerber and Don Green, confirms the effect: Results from a 1999 municipal election show that participants stimulated to vote for the first time in 1998 had a 50 percent likelihood of voting again the next year. “Voting may be a habitual behavior,” says Gerber.

Gerber and Green are now examining data on the behavior of over 25,000 Americans to determine the effects of three different types of appeals to voters: face-to-face interactions, mailings, and telephone drives. “We wanted to see whether or not these various stimuli had an effect on voter turnout,” explains Gerber. In the study of nonpartisan voter drives, they found that the personal approach had the greatest success, resulting in a 10 percent boost in voter turnout. Mailings had a minimal effect–a turnout increase of only 0.5 percent–and phone calls were completely ineffective.

Candidates should look closely at the results of the experiment. “We have observed over the last several decades a changing character in American political campaigns, a movement away from campaign workers who are personally involved with the electorate …to broadcast media,” says Gerber. Door-to-door campaigns, these results indicate, would be more effective than expensive television ads at recruiting new voters. It is also more economically efficient than the more impersonal modes of communication, according to Green. He and Gerber analyzed different methods of appealing to eligible voters by comparing the amount of money spent to the actual number of people persuaded to vote on election day. While the study indicated a cost of $30 per voter for mailings, the price per voter of a door-to-door campaign is less than half that amount. “It’s a puzzle as to why face-to-face campaigning is not used more,” says Green. He blames the move away from personal campaigning on consultants. “Campaign consultants can run more campaigns with direct mail and media.” For a door-to-door campaign, politicians do not need to consult with high-paid experts. A consultant who recommends door-to-door campaigning would potentially be making himself and his colleagues less essential.
Hot Topics
Which of the thousands of papers to be presented at the APSA conference are likely to be the most interesting? We asked some of the nation’s top political scientists for their picks.

Bill Galston

Bill Galston is a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs and the author of Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State. His picks are:

“Party Alignments During the Clinton Era”
John J. Coleman, University of Wisconsin, Madison

“The Consequences of the Declining Faith in the American Electoral System”
Larry M. Bartels, Princeton University
Wendy M. Rahn, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

“Digital Democracy Comes of Age in Arizona: Participation and Politics in the First Binding Internet Election”
Frederic I. Solop, Northern Arizona University

“Results from Evaluations of School Choice Programs”
Paul E. Peterson, Harvard University
William G. Howell, Stanford University
Patrick J. Wolf, Georgetown University

“Ethics and Politics of Organ Transplant Policy”
Saba Brelvi, Johns Hopkins University
Nneka C. Egbuniwe, Johns Hopkins University
Bryn Sakagawa, Johns Hopkins University

“‘Saving’ Social Security and Medicare: A Tale of Elite Opinion”
Joseph White, Tulane University
“Reinventing Government in 2000: Assessing the State of the American States”
Jeffrey L. Brudney, University of Georgia
F. Ted Hebert, University of Utah
Deil S. Wright, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“The Changing American Mind, 1989-1998”
William G. Mayer, Northeastern University

“Political Elites and the American People: Who Says What About Whom.”
Roderick P. Hart, University of Texas, Austin
William Jennings, University of Texas, Austin

Larry Sabato

Larry Sabato is professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, and is the co-author of Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption In American Politics. His picks are:

“Elizabeth Dole for VP? Voters’ Gender Gap and Republican Women Candidates”
Craig Leonard Brians, Virginia Tech

“Are the Sheep Hearing the Shepherd: An Evaluation of Church Member Perceptions of Clergy Political Speech”
Paul A. Djupe, Denison University
Christopher P. Gilbert, Gustavus Adolphus College

“The Politicized White House”
John F. Harris, The Washington Post

“The Media and Military Intervention”
David L. Rousseau, University of Pennsylvania

“Which Senators Receive Media Coverage and Why?”
Sean M. Theriault, Stanford University
David W. Brady, Stanford University

“Showcasing the Public: Public Opinion, the Media, and Impeachment”
Diane J. Heith, St. John’s University

“The Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout in the American States”
Caroline Tolbert, Kent State University

“Barriers to Turnout After Motor Voter”
Raymond E. Wolfinger, University of California, Berkeley
Jonathan Hoffman, University of California, Berkeley

“From Experiment to Status Quo: The Adoption of Vote-By-Mail in the State of Oregon”
Priscilla L. Southwell, University of Oregon

Michael J. Sandel

Michael J. Sandel is a professor of government at Harvard University and the author of Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. His picks are:

“Disdaining the Media: The American Public’s Changing Attitudes Toward the News”
Timothy E. Cook, Williams College
Paul W. Gronke, Duke University

“Eros and Mortality in Nietzsche and Weber”
Tracy B. Strong, University of California, Santa Barbara

“Globalization and Policy Diffusion: Explaining Two Decades of Liberalization”
Beth A. Simmons, University of California, Berkeley

“World Income Inequalities, the World Economy, and Globalization”
Giovanni Arrighi, Johns Hopkins University
Casiano A.W. Hacker-Cordon, Yale University

“What Government Can Do About Poverty and Inequality”
Benjamin I. Page, Northwestern University
James Simmons, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

“Race, State, and History: The Politics of Institutional Change in the United States, Great Britain, and France”
Robert C. Lieberman, Columbia University

“Political Liberalism and the Essential Role of Public Memory”
Steven M. DeLue, Miami University

“Arbitrating Identity: High Courts and Religious/Secular Conflict in Israel and Egypt”
Eva R. Bellin, Harvard University

“Towards the Economic Stabilization of America’s Urban Communities: Policy and Institutional Alternatives in the Global Era”
Gar Alperovitz, University of Marlyand, College Park
David Imbroscio, University of Louisville
Thad Williamson, Harvard University

Theda Skocpol

Theda Skocpol is a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University and the co-author of The Missing Middle: Working Families and the Future of American Social Policy. Her picks are:

“The Effectiveness of Negative Campaigning in U.S. Senate Elections, 1988-1998”
Richard R. Lau, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
Gerald M. Pomper, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

“Acts of Faith: How Churches Spark Political Activity”
David E. Campbell, Harvard University

“Political Generations, Feminist Consciousness and the Consequences for Women’s Political Participation”
Terri Susan Fine, University of Central Florida

“Why Men Leave: Gender and Party Politics in the 1990s”
Anna Greenberg, Harvard University

“Why States Get Partitioned: A Conceptual Account”
Uday Mehta, University of Hull

“Bargaining in Legislatures with Overlapping Generations of Politicians”
Robert Van Houweling, Harvard University
Kenneth A. Shepsle, Harvard University

“Big, Slow, …and Invisible: Macro-Historical Processes and Contemporary Political Science”
Paul Pierson, Harvard University

Michael Gerber and Rachel Marcus are interns at The Washington Monthly

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