California Votes Initiative Print E-mail


To increase voter participation rates among infrequent voters, particularly in low-income and ethnic communities.

Initiative Description

The initiative supported the organizing and outreach efforts of nine nonprofit organizations with proven histories of working effectively with the communities they aim to mobilize. Voter outreach focused on low-income and ethnic communities in the San Joaquin Valley, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The organizations employed a variety of outreach approaches, including congregation-based outreach, neighborhood-based outreach, live phone calls, voter forums, multilingual materials and information provided via ethnic and mainstream media. More background and details about this initiative is available here.


Irvine funded a team of academic researchers with expertise in political participation, voter turnout and advanced statistical methods to conduct the evaluation of the California Votes Initiative. Recognizing that our funding for voter mobilization can only reach a portion of California’s infrequent voters, this evaluation focused on demonstrating to policymakers, funders and other civic organizations the best strategies for mobilizing these voters. Our dissemination focused on sharing this information with other organizing groups. We also informed public officials about increases in voter participation so that they better understand these politically active constituencies in California.


The evaluation was designed to assess the success of different approaches used to increase voter turnout among the target populations. The evaluation analyzed the diverse outreach activities and identified approaches that are particularly effective in specific settings and communities.

Time frame:

2006 – 2009

Participating grantees:

The region of each organization’s voter outreach is noted in parentheses.


The effectiveness of grantee efforts with voter mobilization was evaluated using a combination of measures, including:

  • Data culled from voter outreach records, including "walk lists," sign-up sheets or call lists from telephone banks
  • Voter turnout information purchased from local registrars and merged with mobilization data to evaluate the effectiveness of the local organizations' efforts using control groups
  • A public opinion survey, designed and administered by the evaluation team, to measure voter awareness and interest in the 2008 elections, as well as a variety of independent attitudinal and demographic variables that are traditionally used to predict voter turnout, such as political trust and efficacy, and socioeconomic status (income and education)
  • Tracking and analysis of media coverage of program activities to assess the reach and visibility of grantee organization mobilization activities


Participating community-based organizations directly contacted more than 150,000 low-propensity voters via door-to-door visits and phone calls, and hundreds of thousands more via indirect methods, such as direct mail, inspiring many to take part in the electoral process for the first time.

The effectiveness of voter outreach varied. The more effective campaigns generally raised turnout by about 7 to 9 percentage points among those contacted. On the high end, a Riverside organization demonstrated an increase of 33 percentage points in voter participation by canvassing in a community where its staff and volunteers had a long history of outreach. Indirect methods, such as automated phone calls and mailed materials, did not demonstrate statistically significant differences in voter turnout.

Numerous rounds of voter mobilization experiments revealed a defined set of best practices summarized below:

  1. Two-round phone banks: Improve the impact of phone bank calling with follow-up calls to self-identified likely voters.
  2. Canvasser training and supervision: Increase canvasser effectiveness with training and supervision. Maintain frequent interaction between canvassers and supervisors throughout the campaign.
  3. Social networks: Increase trust and effectiveness of campaigns by using canvassers who are either from the same local neighborhood or are personally known to targeted voters.
  4. Campaign timing: Improve campaign effectiveness by visiting or calling voters within four weeks of an election.
  5. Personal contact: Maximize resources by using mobilization tactics that involve live, personal contact between canvassers and voters.

Initial findings regarding the 2006 and 2007 voter outreach were described in the October 2007 report, New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: A Report on the California Votes Initiative. A second report, New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: Second in a Series of Reports on the California Votes Initiative, was published in September 2008 with new insights gleaned from the February and June 2008 elections. A final evaluation report, published in November 2009, summarizes findings from the entirety of the project’s experiments.


New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: A Report on the California Votes Initiative (PDF)

New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: Second in a Series of Reports on the California Votes Initiative. (PDF)

New Experiments in Minority Voter Mobilization: Third and Final Report on the California Votes Initiative (PDF)


Melissa R. Michelson, Ph.D. (Principal Investigator)
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science
California State University, East Bay

Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Language and Literacy, Society and Culture
University of California, Berkeley

Donald Green, Ph.D.
A. Whitney Griswold Professor of Political Science
Yale University

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