lessons from America

Ground game gains

I haven’t yet had a chance to search for turnout figures state-by-state and to look at whether battleground states had noticeably higher turnout (or experienced a greater % increase in turnout since 2004) compared to non-competitive states.  However, what I have found is a neat post on 538 using exit polling to analyse in swing states whether the side which contacted the most voters won. 

The upshot: yes, the ground game is important and is one of the factors why Obama did so well in certain states. Of the 12 battleground states polled, in all but West Virgina more people had been contacted by the Obama campaign than the McCain campaign.  And of the 12, Obama only lost in West Virginia and Missouri (just). 

Nevada, Colorado and Indiana were all places where Obama actually did much better than polls had predicted.  These were states with by far the highest reported gap between people being contacted by Obama campaigners and McCain campaigners.  Conversely, in West Virginia and Wisconsin there was the smallest margin between voter contacts and Obama did less well there than polls would have suggested.

Nate offers some good interpretations of the data:

“Wisconsin was also relatively close, perhaps because Obama redirected its legion number of Illinois-based volunteers from Wisconsin to Indiana a couple of weeks in advance of the election.”

“Although Obama’s field operation was good, Kerry’s was pretty good too; the difference [this eledtion] may be that while Bush’s field operation was also good, John McCain’s was not.”

“It is possible that Obama’s field operation was more efficient than Kerry’s, as the contact rate gap was larger in battleground than in non-battleground states. I have heard multiple stories of voters in states like Indiana receiving as many as three or four in-person contacts from the Obama campaign on Tuesday. This is a sign of a campaign that knew where the tipping points were, rather than (say) sending volunteers to Michigan on Election Day just to play it safe.”

So putting resources into local organising and gotv activities does work.  But Nate’s final point also shows the limits of a 50 State Strategy when push-comes-to-shove in the closing days of a campaign. The choices still have to be made and under a winner-takes-all system it mitigates against pushing for every last vote in places you are likely to win anyway.

One additional comment from Nate worth mentioning, as it helps explain why Democrats (and the same could be said of the Labour Party) need to work extra hard each election on gotv efforts: 

“Democrats are in fact relying upon lower-propensity voters like youth and minorities. Therefore, it is more incumbent upon the Democrats to have a strong ground game to turn these voters out.”

November 10, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , | Leave a comment

Reimagining the west

I’ve just spent a long weekend in the mountain west.  Denver and its immediate environs aren’t really typical of the rest of Colorado or the other western states, but I got some kind of snapshot of politics in an area trending more Democratic; or at least purple.  Colorado has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Senator (hopefully soon two).  Brian Schweitzer, Dave Freudenthal, Bill Ritter, Janet Napolitano, and Bill Richardson are all Governors of western states.  Likewise Jon Tester, Max Baucus, Ken Salazar, Jeff Bingaman, Harry Reid and Ben Nelson are Democratic Senators, serving rural, western constituencies.

However, the perception amongst the media and voters is quite different.  As reported in a Daily Kos post earlier this month:

“Far too many voters out here in the middle, they’ve just come to accept without question that they and their neighbors are all Republicans, that their own senator or governor is just an anomaly, and that Democrats have been utterly irrelevant to their lives. The Democrats are those people out on the fringes (literally, on the coasts) of the country. Slowly, and increasingly, Democratic candidates across the region are working to change that mindset.”

The Democrats, because of past policies and strategies and personnel, have been portrayed as the party of urbanites, as opposed to the party of the rural west. As the Daily Kos article explains:

“It all came down to the Democrats wanting to take away your guns and your land to give it to some kind of bird or something that nobody had ever heard of. Once those beliefs about Democrats had been established, the rest was easy. Democrats were portrayed as only caring about urban America, and worse, wanting to impose “urban values” on the rest of the country.

The way the national Democrats, pre-Howard Dean and the 50 state strategy, approached the region left little for a Democrat out here to hang on to.  … Along the way, the Democrats that live in some places out here, who have lived out here all along, lost heart. They stopped meeting, stopped talking to each other, forgot that other Democrats even existed. They didn’t dare talk about politics in public settings. This was true even in the Clinton years, when prosperity reigned.

Since Schweitzer’s 2004 election, the purple has been spreading, and with it a growing conversation that reminds people that they don’t have to be a Republican. It’s a conversation spurred by having someone like Gary Trauner showing up on your doorstep. By having someone from the Scott Kleeb campaign call to ask what you’re concerned about in this election. By having a presidential candidate actually come to your state.”

The energetic campaigns in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada are reminding people who might not have seen a Democrat in decades that we don’t have horns and forked tails. And that we might just have some good ideas on how to fix the mess that one-party rule has gotten us into.”

We’ve had the same problems in the UK: where the Labour party is sometimes seen as as the party of metropolitan areas and the (former) industrial heartlands, and the Conservatives are the party of the rural and outer suburban areas.  And it can be very hard to change perceptions, even when the facts on the ground aren’t so black or white (or red and blue rather).   But the right candidates and the right strategy – and even the right kind of voting system – can have a real effect: the electoral map can be re-imagined.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Indiana irrelevant no more

Somewhere just beyond the Rustbelt and not quite to the corn fields of Iowa lie a proud and peaceful people: the Hoosiers.  They have suffered and been ignored for a long time.  And they have taken this with quiet dignity. Until now they have taken the logical path of resignation and acceptance of their fate.  It is not in their character to be like some of their more noisy neighbours or even subscribe to the Todd Palin school of secessionist thought.  All they want is a bit of love and attention; a good listener; someone who is willing to put in some investment of time and money to show that they are serious in wanting their votes.   And it appears that finally, this year, they have found that one.  

Or to put it in slightly a less whimsical fashion:

“One noteworthy feature of Indiana is that it has had rather low turnout in recent elections, perhaps because neither party has really bothered to campaign there. As such, likely voter models which are rooted in past voting history may be unreliable. And according to Tom Jensen, Obama has a 68-24 lead among voters who did not cast a ballot in 2004. These are the sorts of statistics that the Obama campaign is looking at, and they’re why they remain very engaged in the Hoosier State.”  (Nate on 538:)

Chalk up one for the 50 State Strategy. Indiana is just further evidence of that old adage: uncompetitive elections and/or taking voters for granted often leads to lower turnout.  Where as competitive elections and/or actively pouring resources into campaigning and getting out the vote encourages higher turnout. Obviously we still await election day itself and the results to bear this out. So Hoosiers, it’s over to you ….

October 30, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , | Leave a comment

The view from Virginia

I can’t cover all 50 States on my trip, as much as I’d want to.  So instead I’ve enlisted a few people to offer their outsider perspectives on the election where they are.  We heard first up from Pennylsvania. Tonight is Virgina”s turn. I’ve just received a report from a friend from London who is over on the Eastern Seaboard keeping an eye on matters election-related.  This is his personal take on Virginia, one of the key battleground states:

“I can report that the Democrats are cautiously optimistic about winning the state for the first time since the 1960s. I visited one of their phone banks in Richmond and it was totally buzzing with activity and everyone was up and motivated, and there were even a bunch of Malcolm wannabes from the UK volunteering their assistance instead of having a proper holiday. The Republicans on the other hand were less co-operative and wouldn’t talk to me.”

“I was really surprised to learn that when you register to vote you also register your party affiliation (which in most states enable you to vote in the primaries). Doesn’t that mean everyone will know how you’re going to vote? I can just imagine the outraged phone calls now. The Tunbridge Wells telephone exchange would never cope.” 

“In Virginia all voting will be on touch screen voting machines or optical scan ballot papers. The voting machines look really modern and impressive. I must say I’m coming round to the voting machines if they have proper security. Unfortunately they won’t let you spoil your ballot paper so you can’t scrawl all over it which is a real shame in my book. Virginia has banned any new purchases of them so eventually they will be phased out.”

October 29, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Florida answers magnificently

Holy moly.  This is awesome. Remember the Big Schlep.  I thought my 91 year old relative (she’s a year younger than I remembered) would not be open to persuasion on her vote, such were assumptions about her.  I was so pessimistic I didn’t even bother to contact her.  But my mother stepped up to the plate, fired up by Sarah Silverman’s video, and sent an email to our elderly relative instead.  The email used the talking points which exposed the myths about Obama (like ‘he’s a Muslim terrorist’ etc) and gave the positive reasons to vote for Obama.  And look what she got back today:

“Thank you for your long letter praising our next president, we hope Obama. We and most of our friends are supporters of Obama and we all hope that he will get elected.”

Wow.  That is brilliant. And momentous.  The friends she is talking about are likely to be residents of similar gated retirements communities, the sort not obviously ever in ‘Obama’s column’.  But they are.  And if this picture is repeated across the state, then we may well be looking at Florida turning blue this election, a very handsome electoral college win for soon-to-be President Obama.  Indeed, that is looking the case. Today 538 predict Obama to win Florida by 4.6%.  And‘s aggregate of polling also gives Obama the state by a similar margin.

October 16, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy, lessons from America | , , , , | Leave a comment

Michiganders stick 2 fingers up at McCain

If you don’t live in a swing state, you can become accustomed to not getting much attention from the presidential campaigns.  Maybe there a number of state-wide or prominent local races that are very close and keep you interested.  Or maybe you just are resigned to casting a vote that doesn’t matter; or even not bothering to turn up and vote at all. 

But when you live in a swing state and are used to being courted and treated special, then one candidate makes the decision to ‘pull out’ – to drastically cut staff, advertising and campaigning of all kinds and move these resources to other more places they consider better bets – what is your reaction?  You’d likely be p***ed at the guy who jilted you, who tells you you no longer matter. 

And hey, that’s what we seem to have in Michigan.  Last week the McCain campaign announced they were no longer treating Michigan as one of their battleground, target states.  And now, as reported by 538, 

Rasmussen has the first polling out of the state since that announcement, and it gives Barack Obama a 16 point lead. This is a state that, as recently as a month ago, looked like it might be the most important swing state in the nation. Voters really, really don’t like it when you blow off their state. That’s why Hillary Clinton romped to such huge margins in West Virginia and Kentucky in the Democratic primaries, where Obama essentially refused to campaign. It’s why Obama won by more than expected in Wisconsin and South Carolina, which Clinton pulled out of early. It’s why Rudy Giuliani’s decision to ignore every state that didn’t begin with an ‘F’, end with an ‘a’, and have ‘lorid’ in the middle was a catastrophic failure. … If you act like you don’t care about somebody’s vote, you aren’t going to get it.

And before something says it’s just a reflection on the national trend. Well, yes Obama has been increasing his support in most states these past 2-3 weeks.  But the gains in Michigan not only outstrip those of the national tracking polls, but also the average gain in most other places.

October 10, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , , | 1 Comment

The TV battleground

I haven’t yet written as much as I’d hoped about the progress and practical realisation of the 50 State strategy.  But seeing this table of recent TV ad spending by the campaigns, has inspired me to write a quick post. 

The headline figures – of McCain nearly doubling his TV ad spend to $9.3 million this past week, and Obama still outspending his opponent by an almost 2:1 margin – aren’t actually what I find interesting.  It is using the State by State breakdown to work out where the campaigns are going on offense and targeting.

There is significant expenditure in the major swing states (with the expensive media markets) you’d expect: Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  And sure the less populated and cheaper swing states get their little slice of the pie too – the likes of New Hampshire, Iowa and New Mexico.

But the most noteworthy aspect is that Obama in particular is still trying to keep the battle up in a number of other states that wouldn’t normally get much attention.  North Carolina – yes North Carolina –  is one where he looks to be aggressive spending / targeting.  Indiana is another. There are small but significant ad buys in Montana and South Carolina (offense) and Maine (defense), all of which are places where McCain hasn’t spent a dime on TV advertising on in the past fortnight at the very least.  And West Virginia even gets a little look in, from both sides.  

While 19 is far from a full 50 State strategy, with a month to go til the election Obama is still trying to actively expand the electoral map, even with his TV advertising.  The resources pouring into the ground game I suspect are even more widely spread.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , | Leave a comment

States that split matter

So we have McCain pulling out of actively campaigning in Michigan.  And some of his staff and resources from that state are believed to have gone not just to the well-known swing states but to Maine as well. DemConWatch notes:

“Yesterday Matt wrote about how McCain is going to focus on winning one of Maine’s Electoral votes by sinking more money into the state. The other state that awards Electoral Votes by district is Nebraska and the Obama campaign isn’t conceding. Today the Obama campaign announced that they will open a second office in Omaha. Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, which includes Omaha and its suburbs, is considered by some to be a “battleground district“.”

Maybe we will have more states, especially the smaller ones, in future following Maine and Nebraska’s lead and dividing their electoral college votes by district; if only to get a piece of the election action. The old statewide winner takes all system maybe isn’t the best suited any more.  There’s also a decent case for looking more closely at the National Popular Vote scheme that has been proposed, and backed by a number of states.

October 4, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , , , , | 2 Comments

Dean speaks strategy

Earlier today, friend and top blogger Sean Quinn of 538 got to interview Howard Dean, chair of the Democrat party and originator the 50 state strategy. 

“We asked him to explain how the 50-state strategy had benefited Barack Obama and Democratic candidates during this 2008 cycle. He was ready with the answer – when you go into places like Utah and South Carolina and Alaska, you give yourselves the opportunity not only to develop the Democratic voter file there, you lay the groundwork for having the infrastructure to support legitimate candidates like Mark Begich, a slight favorite to topple the indicted Ted Stevens.”

Read the full interview,including the importance of the ground game, here.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , | Leave a comment

The retreat from 50 officially starts here

I’m starting early my post party conference season plan of blogging near daily.  Just back from Manchester and the Labour Conference and will put up a post at a more sensible hour about comparing Denver with Manchester; being in the hall for Brown versus being in the stadium for Obama.  I know, an unfair comparison, but thought it’d be fun to run with it anyway. 

For now though the disappointing – though inevitable given the way the electoral system/college works –  news that Obama’s 50 State Strategy is that bit diminished. 

“The Obama campaign has pulled paid workers out of Alaska and North Dakota and is pretty soon going to be concentrating on a dozen states. Goodbye Utah, hello Colorado. The battlegrounds will be a couple of Kerry states, most probably Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, as well as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and maybe Georgia in the South, Ohio in the rust belt, and Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada in the West, plus maybe a couple of others. There was never any way all 50 states were in play. Which is not to say Democrats can’t win in strange places–the governors of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and North Carolina are all Democrats–but Obama is not a home-grown Southern or Western Democrat.”

September 25, 2008 Posted by | 50 State strategy | , | Leave a comment