Awakened: The Potential for Mobilization to Reshape Interest in Politics

30 Pages Posted: 9 May 2019

See all articles by Gabriel Nahmias

Gabriel Nahmias

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: March 20, 2019


Interest in politics has been repeatedly shown to be a substantively important precursor to political participation. Unfortunately, sources of its variation beyond childhood socialization remain under-explored. This is likely due to a widespread belief that interest is intractable: “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” In response, I enumerate several mechanisms through which political mobilization might be expected to shift interest. This potential is then tested using a well-established most-likely case: the 2012 presidential campaign. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that residents of battleground states exhibit a notable increase in political interest between 2010 and 2014 compared to those in “spectator” states and an alternative specification using field office placement implicates campaign mobilization directly in precipitating this change. The magnitude of the estimated effect is equivalent to over 150,000 entirely disinterested North Carolinians becoming fully engaged who would have remained apathetic had they lived in Georgia. The change is concentrated among those without college degrees, indicating mobilization may compensate for marginalizing conditions. Further evidence shows the effect resulted in increased political knowledge and lingered into 2016. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that political mobilization can shift interest and underscores the importance of understanding how recruitment can reshape the motivations of the electorate.

Keywords: Mobilization, Political Interest, Motivation, Political Participation, Campaigns, Battleground States

Suggested Citation

Nahmias, Gabriel, Awakened: The Potential for Mobilization to Reshape Interest in Politics (March 20, 2019). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2019-12. Available at SSRN: or

Gabriel Nahmias (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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