Nonprofits Found to Have Marked Impact on Who Votes

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August 6, 2013;


NPQ has repeatedly urged nonprofits to mount get-out-the-vote campaigns in important elections to ensure that constituents have a voice with elected representatives and eventually become those elected representatives themselves, but now we have some additional information about such campaigns that we hope will remind you of the activity’s importance. And we are happy, of course, to report this in the wake of the 2012 elections, where a diverse cross-section of people did come out to vote, to some effect.

Nonprofit VOTE just released the results of a study it did with 94 nonprofits during the 2012 elections to look at their level of effectiveness in increasing voter turnout. The nonprofits were active in seven states, with 33,741 voter contacts among clients, constituents and staff. CIRCLE, the youth civic engagement institute at Tufts University, did the analysis, and they found that the nonprofits in the study proved their ability to increase turnout rates among those least expected to vote and to close demographic gaps in voter participation.

The headline findings from the report:

  • The clients and constituents engaged by nonprofits were markedly more diverse, of lower income, and younger than all registered voters in the seven states, made up of populations with a history of lower voter turnout in past elections.
  • Voter turnout among those contacted by nonprofits was 74%, six points above the 68% turnout rate for all registered voters, with the largest turnout differences seen among “low propensity voters” who campaigns typically miss.
  • Nonprofits were particularly effective at increasing voter turnout among traditionally underrepresented groups and closing participation gaps. Voter turnout of nonprofit voters, compared to all registered voters, was 18 points higher for Latino voters, 15 points higher for voters under the age of 30, and 15 points higher for voters with household incomes under $25,000.
  • Although nonprofits made the biggest difference among traditionally underrepresented groups, nonprofit voters outperformed their counterparts across all demographic groups studied.



As this country’s demographics change, it is critical that civil society attend to doing its due diligence where encouraging voting is concerned. It is only one aspect of creating powerful constituencies in active democracy, but it is a pivotal one.—Ruth McCambridge


  • Michael Wyland

    Similar increases in voter turnout were observed as a result of efforts by the nonprofit Moral Majority in the 1980s and, even more significantly, by the nonprofit Christian Coalition in the 1990s. Christian Coalition grassroots training focused in significant part on encouraging evangelicals to change their traditional mindset that political involvement was somehow “ungodly” and therefore to be avoided.

    There is a strain of political strategy and tacstics that teaches that elections are won by energizing the base and expanding the base rather than by attempting to persuade moderate voters (plus picking off a few voters from the other side’s base). That such efforts are successful is demonstrated in part by the polarization of the electorate and the swings in turnout by various groups based on the efforts of organizations to bring their adherents to the polls.