SixFifty

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.”

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

Believing in Obama’s ground game

I spent the last week at Labour Party Conference, in Manchester.  I proudly wore my Obama buttons – brought enought for a different badge each day – and consequently had lots of conversations about the US elections.  I was surprised how many people were asking me “can Obama really do it?” and were pessimistic about his chances.  They were simply looking at the polls from the past few weeks, Palin’s bounce for McCain and adding in a dose of British natural cynicism for good measure. And hey suddenly they were downbeat about Obama.  Our media was also doing down Obama’s chances too. 

So there I was, almost single-handedly I felt, having to reassure and convince Labour people that Obama was still ahead and going to win, albeit in a close election.   I guess most people just read a couple of blogs or newsites, see the realclearpolitics tracking figures and take the state of the race at face value.  But that is a complete misreading of what is actually going on. 

As Bill Clinton didn’t quite say: “it’s the ground game, stupid.”  What we don’t see in the polls and focus groups is what’s actually happening on the ground; the mobilising, voter registration, get-out-the-vote efforts; and the changing demographics.  All of these favour the Democrats this time, and have been doing all year.

Joe Trippi (Howard Dean’s campaign manager from ’04) describes the electoral significance of this:

“[Obama’s] campaign organization should deliver a 1 to 3 points in additional voters to the polls in get-out-the-vote operations in key states the campaign is targeting. So if these states are close in the closing days of the campaign Obama is likely to win most of them.”

Disappointingly many at Labour Conference just didn’t get it, or didn’t believe it, or thought it the wrong tactics.  But if we are not into believing in the power of humanity and collective effort; that by talking to and persuading our peers, building a movement “brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand” (as Obama said in one of his speeches), that is the right thing to do, as well as what can win us the election, then what is the point in being Labour / progressive at all? It’s certainly what helps drive me and makes me optimistic that Obama will win in the end.

September 28, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, the world wants obama, Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment