Don’t Be Fooled: ‘Nonpartisan’ Get-Out-The-Vote Efforts Always Benefit Democrats

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Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson has said his city will use a private grant to conduct door-to-door canvassing by the city’s election officials to urge people to vote.

To many people, it would seem that nothing could be as innocuous as a simple “nonpartisan” get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort, even if it is financed by private grants to election officials. It might sound fair enough, if the mayor’s election staff takes no partisan position, and advocates for no particular candidates in their efforts, and given that election officials are required by law to operate in a nonpartisan fashion.

But as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway tweeted at the time, Zuckerberg-style targeted private financing — and collusion with supposedly non-partisan election administration — of GOTV operations in Democrat regions is a horrific attack on election integrity.”

Even if we could take Milwaukee Mayor Johnson at his word when he says, “I’m not asking anybody to cast their ballots for 1 party or another or 1 candidate or another.  What I’m asking is for people to participate in our process,” what he is suggesting is inherently partisan, at least in Milwaukee, and in most other U.S. urban areas.

Content neutrality of GOTV efforts ultimately has little to do with their partisan effects. The partisan advantage depends far more on the political characteristics of the targeted area. 

Why Geographically Targeted GOTV Efforts are Inherently Partisan

In a city like Milwaukee, which Joe Biden won in 2020 with 80 percent of the vote to Donald Trump’s 20 percent, a randomly targeted GOTV effort can be expected to increase the Democratic candidate’s vote total by an extra 600 votes for every 1,000 additional voters mobilized. This is because the Democratic candidate would be expected to get an additional 800 votes, while the Republican candidate would be expected to get an additional 200 votes, resulting in a net gain for the Democrat of 600 votes.

If a successful effort in Milwaukee — such as Johnson has in mind this year — results in the mobilization of 40,000 additional voters in Milwaukee, we would expect the result to be an additional 24,000 votes for the Democratic candidate, far in excess of the 20,682 votes by which Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin in 2020.

You can calculate the “get-out-the-vote multiplier” (GOTV multiplier) for any city or county yourself. All you have to know is the margin by which the Democratic candidate beat the Republican candidate in the previous election, assuming that the political characteristics of the demographic in question haven’t significantly changed.

For example, if an area is 80 percent Democrat and 20 percent Republican like Milwaukee, the GOTV multiplier will be the difference between the Democrat vote share and the Republican vote share, which in this case is 60 percent or 0.60.  An additional 1,000 votes will yield an extra 600 votes for the Democrat.

Of course, if the Republican candidate beats the Democrat candidate, the GOTV multiplier will be negative. This is why one never sees leftist nonprofits targeting GOTV efforts in exurban and rural areas, even though many Democratic voters live in those areas.

Every political strategist knows these formulas, but the public has been misled by the narrative that as long as the message of GOTV efforts is nonpartisan, the activities themselves are also nonpartisan. They are not! Precise targeting of GOTV efforts within any area will result in a predictable GOTV multiplier, which is why private funds are once again being mobilized to fund GOTV efforts in heavily Democratic Milwaukee. 

The exact same principal was at work in the infamous “ZuckBucks” or Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) scandal of 2020. In the counties where CTCL made its 50 largest grants in per-capita spending, the average partisan advantage in favor of Democrat Biden over Republican Trump was 33 points — meaning the money could be expected to stimulate significantly more Democratic votes than Republican votes in ZuckBuck-financed areas.

Election Officials Should Not Be Running GOTV Efforts

It is obvious that leftist nonprofits are up to their old tricks in Milwaukee in advance of the midterm elections of 2022. They are trying to increase Democrats’ statewide vote totals in Wisconsin in order to support Democrat Mandela Barnes’ Senate campaign against Republican incumbent Ron Johnson. They are using the same technique that won Wisconsin for Joe Biden in 2020 through more than $10 million in CTCL grants to election offices in heavily Democratic enclaves such as Milwaukee.

Leftist nonprofits should not be permitted to mobilize local election officials in the interest of their highly partisan objectives through private grants that direct election officials to “get out the vote.” If election officials in a certain area are working to increase voter turnout, they know exactly which party that increase in voter turnout will favor, regardless of its nonpartisan content.

Conservatives should work to maintain the nonpartisan conduct of local election offices by making strings-attached private grants to local election officials illegal, no matter how innocent or nonpartisan they may appear on the surface.


William Doyle, Ph.D., is principal researcher at Caesar Rodney Election Research Institute in Irving, Texas. He specializes in economic history and the private funding of American elections.

Previously, he was associate professor and chair in the Department of Economics at the University of Dallas. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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