Could we have blamed the relentless phone bank callers, as Pete (Comment 1, #4) suggested? That is, could potential Brown voters have been turned off from voting by the blitz of calls, live and robo? As a sometime phone banker myself, I could see this happening. When I brought my concerns to the phone bank boss, she maintained there were political science studies supporting the over-the-top calling strategy. I've found some support for that viewpoint, but I have also come up with some research suggesting that Pete may be right.
Here is one study by a Princeton prof, arguing that phoning increases turnout. He goes after these profs, below, who claim it decreases turnout (sorry, no links):
Gerber, Alan S., and Donald P. Green. 2000. "The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment." American Political Science Review
Gerber, Alan S., and Donald P. Green. 2001. "Do Phone Calls Increase Voter Turnout? A Field Experiment." Public Opinion Quarterly
Here is another scholar who says the calls don't make much difference. But this scholar says the calls can provided they are of good quality.
Had enough? The quality argument appeals to me. I've gotten fewer nasty responses than my colleagues by beginning my call with "Thank you for voting today..." I guess all I need to do now is to reproduce this result, so I'll have data instead of an anecdote and publish it in a big-time poly sci journal. I prefer door-to-door campaigning, meeting real voters and chatting with them. Ultimately, though, it comes down to the quality of the candidate or issue. That is the element these putatively scientific studies need to control for, and I don't think the rules of science allow them to factor that in.
Political campaigns waste a lot of their budgets. Like the welfare state, these hired guns throw money at a problem to solve it. Yet they also send ill-informed doorbellers out with inaccurate street maps and bad voting records.
UPDATE: Classy Brown remarks.
Ken, my impression of the phonebankng was drawn from a sample of two. Half the sample (me) didn't especially care, but found it a bit much. The other half (my moderate Republican wife) was exasperated and promised to swear off voting for Brown the next time his people called. Luckily, the next call was for Coakley. I can understand the Brown phonebanking strategy. The were amazingly outgunned in the air war (in quantity, though not quality) and phone banking and robocalls are cheap in comparison. Anyway, congrats to Brown. This is the best night Massachusetts conservatives have had in my memory. Even better than 1990 when Weld was voted in to replace Dukakis. The stakes were higher in today's race and the Democrat Governor candidate in 1990 (John Silber) was worlds better than Coakley.
Good news for Massachusetts and good news for the rest of the country. All have probably seen what Jim Webb said.
About phone banks and the quality of callers: I have friend who organizes things like phone banks for the county Republican Party and she said they all cringe when their callers diverge from the script. The scripts can be lame, she admits, but an uninformed caller makes the candidate sound lame.
"In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process. It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated."