The nature and importance of political mobilization have been debated, with some finding that mobilization is shaped importantly by campaigns and has important impacts on state electoral outcomes, others finding face-to-face mobilization to be important in stimulating voter turnout, others finding that the impacts of GOTV are not evenly distributed among the electorate, and still others finding negligible effects of campaign ads on turnout.
Whether there are overarching effects of get-out-the-vote (GOTV) mobilization or whether those effects are concentrated among particular types of voter contact, what is clear is that who votes matters. Indeed, in the 2012 election, the Romney and Obama campaigns spent an average of $22 on online advertisements per vote on an average American, and that does not include money spent on voter registration, targeting, identification, and turning out supporters to the polls.
What is curious about Trump’s speech is the discussion of voter turnout and the mobilization of new voters or new voters within the Republican Party. It is not uncommon to see a partisan division between Democrats’ and minorities’ discussions of voter disenfranchisement and Republicans’ discussions of voter fraud. What this typically boils down to debate surrounding barriers to voting – whether photo ID, language assistance, disability access, ex-offender status, etc. – along with decisions whether to make polls more accessible to voters given absentee voting, early voting, and same-day registration, with concerns being raised about the increased potential for voter fraud under such conditions as same-day registration and voting.
A number of problems can be seen in arguments pertaining to voter fraud, not least of them being that a study revealed only 31 incidents of voter fraud since 2000 out of over 1 billion votes cast in that period, compared with 2.6 million ex-offenders disenfranchised even after he completion of their sentence, many of whom are racial minorities voting disproportionately for the Democratic Party, and 11% of eligible voters lacking a government-issued photo ID that some have compared to a modern-day poll tax.
If candidates are committed to garnering the support of the American electorate, it would seem fitting that candidates would work to win over the maximum number of voters, and to empower those voters to turn out to the polls in as great numbers as possible. Sadly, such a claim is now deemed an idealistic view of voter mobilization in American presidential elections. But it shouldn’t be. It is virtually expected that nearly half of a nation’s voters will vote against the prevailing presidential candidate – Obama won the popular vote 51/47 in 2012 and 53/46 in 2008, Bush won the popular vote 51/48 in 2004 and lost the popular vote 48/48 in 2000, etc. – but should those 47% opposition voters be reduced by way of persuasion or by way of changing the election laws themselves?
Fifteen states have recently enacted new and expansive constraints on voter rights, some of them swing states (e.g., New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio) and totaling 162 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, the effects of which we will see play out in the November general election. For a nation that up until the 1960s had not struck invalid such policies as literacy tests and poll taxes, we should exercise great caution in embracing contemporary means of such discrimination at the ballot box. While the debate today often falls along partisan lines, it is not a political issue. It is an issue fundamental not simply to success in a setting of partisan politics, but to the functioning of American democracy.