I will be the first to admit that a robust GOTV strategy is sound and proven. The recent Yale University-backed study on the several categories of GOTV (canvassing, personal calls, robo calls, and mass mailings) yield firm, robust support for the canvassing route. With your forbearance, I will insert the Yale summary of the larger study which can be found at https://isps.yale.edu/node/16698:
“Some recent research findings suggest…
** Personalized methods and messages work better. Across a number of mobilization experiments, one consistent finding is that more personalized messages are more effective in mobilizing voters. When Donald Green and Alan Gerber put forth this generalized finding in Get Out the Vote!: A Guide for Candidates and Campaigns (2004), they contended that door-to-door canvassing was the most consistently effective and efficient method of voter mobilization, and they suggested that the success of canvassing could be attributed to the personal, face-to-face delivery of the GOTV messages. In recent years, this finding has proven to be robust. More recently, however, experiments of professional and volunteer phone calls (Nickerson 2006b; Arceneaux 2006; Arceneaux and Nickerson 2006) have suggested that personalized messages delivered in a conversational manner over the phone may be as effective (and cost-effective) as canvassing. Experiments testing impersonal GOTV methods, such as mass email (Nickerson 2006d; Stollwerk 2006) and robo calls (Green and Karlan 2006; Ramirez 2005), exhibit another robust finding: they are chronically ineffective and inefficient means of mobilizing voters. While it is apparent that methods other than door-to-door canvassing, such as volunteer and professional phone calls, may approach the level of effectiveness and cost-competitiveness of door-to-door canvassing, many results suggest that it is the dynamic interaction of authentic person-to-person contact that is most important in determining whether a method will successfully mobilize voters.”
However, the study did not look at GOTV efforts against a highly polarized background of social media/mass media information/disinformation segmented voter demographics. In a perfect world, a robust canvassing GOTV effort will follow traditional avenues of contact — door-to-door outreach within 14–3 days of an election. That approach assumes it may still be possible to encourage votes to vote either a) for the canvasser’s candidate, or b) for the citizenship value of going to the polls.
I’ve been a part of both strategies — sometimes you want to give one last solid pitch for your candidate, sometimes you know that just by getting the voter to the polling place they are of such a reliable demographic that they will vote for your candidate. I don’t see that happening in 2020.
My sense of the public’s receptivity to canvassing is that it is falling to the levels of their receptivity of impersonal phone calls, or, worse, robo calls (see the Yale study on those categories). You and I happen to live in a neighborhood that so far has been tolerant of, if not receptive to, face-to-face door-knocking canvassing. But it is my belief that our neighborhood is a throwback, and does not reflect the demographics of most American neighborhoods that will be crucial to the success of a GOTV effort. I admit I don’t have any hard data to support that assertion, so I’m ready to be shown the hard numbers and peer-vetted research that proves me wrong.
Statewide in Virginia, the percentage of eligible voters vs. actual voters, when graphed, shows a roller-coaster of data (data from Virginia election commission):
The swing from a low of 28.61% to a high of 72.05% illustrates the difference between presidential and non-presidential years, but when you look at just the presidential years 2012 (Obama) and 2016 (Trump), it is clear that Virginia’s voters will come out in droves, and that the difference in numbers of voters going to the polls to elects a president after contentious campaigns (72.05% vs. 71.06%) is razor thin.
As noted in Wikipedia’s notes on the 2016 election: “The Democratic Party candidate, Hillary Clinton of New York, carried Virginia with a 49.7% plurality in the popular vote against businessman Donald Trump of New York, who carried 44.4%, a victory margin of 5.3%. Clinton seemed to benefit from having Tim Kaine on the ticket. Whereas the national popular vote swung 1.9% Republican from the previous election, Virginia swung 1.37% Democratic. Though Clinton’s percentage was lower than both of Obama’s margins in 2008, and 2012 however.”
If a GOTV campaign here in Virginia is to be successful and bend toward a Democratic victor to such an extent that the total numbers of pro-Democratic voters will overwhelm Trump’s voters, it will have to be a GOTV campaign like no other — it will have to be greater than incremental; it will have to be statistically outside the margin of error by many points. And I just don’t see that kind of groundswell happening except in districts like ours which are reliable high-voting districts that are likely to go for a Democrat.
I know I am sounding a dour note on the bell of optimism, and I will attempt to restrain that bell-ringing for a few weeks or months, but even at the rapid pace of the political cycle you mention. the underlying truth seems to be that Trump has more punch and power, underwritten by more money and machinery, than the Democrats have so far been able to muster (Bloomberg’s money will make no difference unless he chooses to supply the Party with funds even after he fails to get the nomination).