Does all this mean that Obama’s allies would have been better off talking up McCain in 2008? Not exactly. Like the effects on survey response and voter turnout, the negative effect on Obama support appears concentrated among infrequent voters. So the people who were turned off were those least likely to turn out. But the experiment does reinforce just how difficult persuasion can be, and just how central targeting is to an effective ground game. And for campaigns and campaign watchers, it underscores that putting boots on the ground isn’t always enough—or even a net positive. If the volunteers in those boots are knocking on the wrong doors, or saying the wrong thing, they might not be helping their candidate.
That’s from my post today at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, reporting the results of a large-scale field experiment in Wisconsin during the 2008 presidential election. For more, head over to Wonkblog. Or if you are curious about the working paper on which it’s based, head here.