The Voter Registration Race of 2018

By The Darian of Harrington

If there is one thing that gets the juices of political organizations on campus flowing, it is elections; voting season means registration for students. Ohio has a special rule for its voters that affects college students – students can use their collegiate address to register to vote in Ohio, even if their home address is not in Ohio. Due to this exception, political organizations explode with excitement in order to register students on campus, and Denison is no exception. In order to study the influence of Denison organizations on campus regarding their mobilization for voting registration, we need to look at whether students were contacted, the potential partisan differences in contacting, and if their methods were effective.

In October of 2018, the Denison student body received a survey that included the question, “In the past three months, has anyone from the following groups contacted you to register to vote, vote for a particular candidate, or otherwise get involved?” The groups listed were Democratic Party member, a Republican Party member, an “other” group, and “one of your friends.” They might have asked you to ‘Register to Vote in Ohio’, ‘Vote for a particular candidate’, or “Vote early.’

As the figure below shows, over 80% of survey takers received some sort of contact about voting. Regarding political organizations on campus, around 70% of students perceived contact from the Denison Democrats whereas only around 30% of the student body reported contact by Denison Republicans. This can be explained, in part, via the motivations behind the two organizations and their strategies behind mobilization on campus. The former President of the Denison Democrats during the Fall 2018 semester said that their strategy was a simple one: “The Denison Democrats continued to do the tried and true method that we’d been using for years — get out there with clipboards and ask people to register to vote.” It would make sense that their strategy correlates with a high percentage of contact.

However, the strategy of the College Republicans was a bit different. Instead of focusing on voter registration, they decided to focus more on increasing voter turnout. Realizing that there is a significantly smaller number of Republicans on campus, the College Republicans thought it would be better to focus on getting involved via campaign and issue-based volunteering as opposed to registration. This more limited strategy makes it understandable why the reported a lower percentage of mobilization from Denison Republicans.

The graph below shows further indication of the strategy of the Denison Democrats regarding voter mobilization. Between the three salient party identification categories, all of them regarded the Democrats as the group that contacted them the most. While the Republicans were perceived to make the least contact, they were more likely to make contact with other Republicans as showcased by the graph below. Still, given that the campus is a bit less than 20 percent Republican, the fact that they contacted well over 30 percent of campus suggests they are ‘punching above their weight.’ Democrats should dominate contacting given the advantage of dealing with a majority left-leaning campus; there’s no reason for them to be strategic in contacting and it shows in their blanket coverage strategy.[1]

These results clearly show the that the different political organizations were highly active during the 2018 midterm election, investing considerable effort on voter mobilization. Thanks to the insight of some of the executive board members of these organizations, we now have some qualitative analysis behind these quantitative results. If the Democrats’ strategy was to knock on every door, these results show the natural limitations – some people are just not going to remember or register that contact. Moreover, this quick analysis shows how deeply embedded parties are in the social structure – it is hard to fight against existing social ties to mobilize people and politically active friends are critical to making democracy work. Coming soon: research on the potential partisan effects and general effectiveness of contacting.

Darian Harrington is an amateur misanthrope who is simultaneously trying to save the world with his Political Science education. When he isn’t hermiting in his room, you can find him procrastinating in Knapp.


1. This pattern is very similar to one found in the political science literature, which shows how important it is to examine the social structure in which parties operate:

Huckfeldt, Robert, and John Sprague. 1992. “Political parties and electoral mobilization: Political structure, social structure, and the party canvass.” American Political Science Review 86(1): 70-86.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s