Will a Five-Minute Discussion Change Your Mind? A Countrywide Experiment on Voter Choice in France

by Vincent Pons

Overview — A countrywide field experiment conducted during François Hollande's door-to-door campaign for the 2012 French presidential election finds that one-on-one discussions with campaigners have strong potential to shift people's decisions even when the principal's control on campaign agents is limited. The implications reach beyond political campaigns to persuasive communication directed at consumers, donors, or investors.

Author Abstract

Existing evidence on the impact of door-to-door canvassing comes from small-scale experiments that assign treatment at the individual level (at which voter choices are difficult to measure) and assume greater control over canvassers' selection and behavior than is typical to most campaigns. This paper takes a different approach by assigning entire precincts to either a control group or a treatment group in a countrywide experiment during François Hollande's campaign in the 2012 French presidential elections. Overall, activists supporting the Parti Socialiste's candidate knocked on five million doors. Visits did not affect voter turnout but increased Hollande's vote share in the first round at the expense of his right-wing opponents and accounted for one fifth of his victory margin in the second round. This impact largely persisted in later elections, suggesting that even brief one-on-one discussions can have a large and lasting persuasion effect.

Paper Information