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In a recent local election in New York, turnout was as low as 11% in some districts:

Usually, Council elections are held every four years. But once every two decades — thanks to the way the calendar falls during the redistricting process — there’s an off-cycle election for a two-year term. Such was the case this year.

As of 11 p.m., New York City had counted about 557,000 ballots, according to unofficial results listed on the state Board of Elections’ website. That works out to about 11% of the 5.1 million total registered voters in the city.

In theory, if all the local Republicans mobilized themselves for this election they could've easily grabbed all the elected positions. Even in the Bronx 20% of the electorate voted for Donald Trump, so in theory the numbers were there for a huge electoral upset.

Are there examples of this happening in practice where a minority party used the low turnout to stage a huge upset? I'm looking for examples where a strategic campaign specifically asked minority party voters to show up, citing prior low turnout as the reason why they might end up winning.

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    Avoiding such upsets isa good reason for making voting obligatory... though the US seems to move in the opposite direction - of more lax voting regulations. Of course, obligatory voting makes sense only if none of the candidates is a possibility.
    – Roger V.
    Nov 10, 2023 at 6:32
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    I asked a similar question a long while ago about "expanding the electorate". I got a nice answer with tons of references but it was unfortunately deleted by the author. Nov 10, 2023 at 7:00

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Sure

Mom's for Liberty is a right wing fringe group that has run candidates for school boards across the country using this "low turn-out vulnerability" to get their candidates elected, and then enact unpopular policies at the local school level.

It more or less worked in 2022, when this "trick" was not widely known.

The 2023 election shows the weakness of this strategy, when a large majority of the MFL candidates were defeated.

But not For Long

And that's the issue with the "low turn-out vulnerability" - it only works if it's a surprise. If one party increases spending to attempt to increase turn-out, the other party is generally aware of it. This gives the party on the defensive a chance to increase it's own spending to raise their own turn-out, in an arms race that the more popular party is likely to end up winning.

Mom's for Liberty targeted a type of election that had historically been less partisan and relied less on ad-spending and other externally identifiable marketing, so Democrats were slow to identify and counter this tactic.

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  • 45% of the candidates they've endorsed ended up winning, so seems like they're not doing too badly? But +1 and I'll accept this answer if no one else adds an example. Nov 10, 2023 at 18:48
  • @JonathanReez - My understanding was that a lot of M4L incumbents lost in 2023, with several Pennsylvania districts, the Loudon VA district, and others flipping from M4L dominated to Democratic -- so they were able to temporarily get control, but then majority caught on and kicked them out the next cycle.
    – codeMonkey
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:09
  • @JonathanReez - from your Brookings article: "This netted 340 candidates from the 2022 election cycle and another 32 from 2023, amounting to 372 total candidates" -- so most of their data is from 2022, which makes it difficult to assess the claim I make, that the 2023 data shows a backlash against the 2022 M4L victories.
    – codeMonkey
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:12
  • Yes, this makes sense, the one variable I'm not seeing is whether or not this is because of increased voter turnout or simply because the M4L voters failed to show up this time around. Nov 10, 2023 at 21:40

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