Get Out the Vote: Matthew Davis 2014
Somewhere there is a voter—perhaps a rural teen or poor farmworker—who could cast the vote that elects the next president or a state’s newest senator.
Matt Davis finds these voters, registers them and gets them to the polls.
As the director of civic engagement for the League of Conservation Voters, Davis works to increase voting by people often overlooked by political campaigns. The job requires mining vast amounts of voter data, developing registration programs and designing sophisticated computer models to predict voter turnout.
“Communities of color, young people, unmarried women—it used to be campaigns didn’t use money to engage them because they didn’t think it was worth it,” Davis said. “Today, there’s more awareness these communities deserve a voice in the political process and make a difference in deciding Election Day.”
Statistics, regression analysis and number crunching are the new weapons in campaigning. Davis was schooled heavily in them while earning bachelor’s degrees in political science and economics at UO in 2014.
In a political science course on political methodology, he learned how to apply statistical methods to politics, using data to find and target voters who had been overlooked. An economics course on econometrics helped him measure and predict the effectiveness of campaign messages, strategies and funding.
For his thesis paper in political science, Davis examined the effectiveness of tactics he had employed during an Oregon Senate election to reach “drop-off voters”—people who voted during a presidential election but not the following mid-term.
Marrying his experience on the campaign trail with know-how in statistics, Davis and professors David Steinberg and Priscilla Southwell examined voter turnouts and campaign expenditures to determine which techniques packed the most bang for the buck in drawing people to the polls.
Previous research had concluded spending too heavily on local campaigns in a mid-term could be foolhardy because such efforts are overshadowed by heavily funded national campaigns. But Davis’s thesis debunked the old school of thought: Spending on local campaigns can break through the media noise of national ones to reduce voter drop-off.
“It really helped me greatly with the work I do now,” Davis said. “I had to think about creating an experiment from the beginning and carrying it through to the conclusion.”
Based in the national nonprofit’s D.C. office, Davis runs voter registration campaigns in 20 states, collaborating with partners across his region. They run computer programs to predict how effective their campaigns will be with certain groups and whether their efforts will be worth the expense in terms of voter turnout.
Davis used the political science department’s flexible internship program to take several semesters off to work for a variety of Democratic campaigns. Under the program, he gained valuable real-life experience—and also college credit, for writing a 30-page paper explaining what the experience taught him about political science.
Through that program, Davis worked on premiere state campaigns including Measures 66 and 67—the new tax proposals on the wealthy and corporations were passed in 2010—and former Governor John Kitzhaber’s successful 2014 campaign.
Davis’ day-to-day work is a blur of email, conference calls and collaboration with partners to design programs to get out the vote.
“Communication is one of the most important things I learned at UO,” Davis said. “Actually, I took an hour-credit course in grammar—and that helped me immensely.”