The Ground Game!

A different kind of ground game, but without Adrian Peterson the Vikes wouldn’t be 5-2

One wild card in this unique and exciting election campaign is the Obama ground game.    As Huffington Post columnist Paul Blumenthal notes, Obama’s ground game effort is unprecedented.   They are spending four times as much money in swing states than the Romney camp, with that many more offices and paid staff.   Already in states like North Carolina this is yielding high vote totals — levels which might not register in polls that screen likely voters.

In the swing states alone Obama and the Democrats are spending as much on the ground game as entire campaigns used to cost thirty years ago.  Will it work?

If it does, this could change the way politics operate.   Rather than focusing primarily on ads and big picture messaging, campaigns will delve more into social media, GOTV and the building of local grass roots networks to try to enhance voter turnout.

There is reason for Democrats to feel optimistic.   A study in 2009 showed that the Obama ground game flipped three states in 2008:  Florida, Indiana and North Carolina.    They made a difference everywhere, but in other states Obama’s lead was great enough that the ground game wasn’t the cause of victory.   The study tries to control for Obama’s overall popularity, an increase in minority voting, and other things that were happening even without the ground game.

Beyond that, Obama’s efforts have intensified even as reported Democratic enthusiasm has waned — very little can match the emotion of the 2008 campaign.    In 2008 the ground game ultimately got under emphasized because Obama’s win was decisive.   This year the ground game could decide the race.

It’s hard to make sense of early and incomplete data, but the Democrats seem to be doing well in early voting in Ohio (this graph through 10-24)

Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, states that Romney needs to win, all have early voting systems that benefit Obama’s ground game.   In Ohio and Florida early voting has been limited compared to 2008, though not as much as the GOP Governors and legislatures sought.    The reason, of course, was to try to blunt this Democratic advantage.  In Ohio there were efforts to cut the hours of early voting in Democratic districts while expanding them in Republican ones, as well as to limit early voting on the last weekend to the military only.    The US Supreme Court denied the latter effort, and the Secretary of State was shamed into abandoning the former.

Florida decreased the number of days for early voting and eliminated voting the Sunday before election day.   Black churches tended to bus people to the polls that day, enhancing minority turnout.    Florida’s changes led to court challenges and ultimately a deal was reached.

Five counties governed by the Voting Rights Act have been told they must have the maximum of 96 hours over eight consecutive days.   Other counties have chosen between 62 total hours the maximum of 96.   Early voting will take place from Saturday October 27 to Saturday November 3rd.    Florida also allows for mail in early voting, and there has been a lot of activity on that front.

Florida Governor Rick Scott tried to reduce early voting in order to counter Obama’s ground game – the Courts limited the impact of those efforts.

States like Colorado, Iowa and Nevada will be good tests of the ground game.   All three states have early voting for anyone who desires it.  In Colorado it starts 15 days before the election and ends on election day.   In Nevada and Iowa days and times vary by county, but in each state well over half the votes are cast early.

All of this makes the ground game potentially an enormous factor in the outcome.   There is more time to contact people, and those less enthused or likely to vote on election day may yield to the pressure (or embrace the convenience) of early voting.

The air war – in football the passing game, in politics the TV ads – get most of the attention and generate the most excitement. But without a ground game, the impact may be limited.

No one is sure if this will be worth all the money and effort.   Perhaps spending four times as much as the GOP will yield only modest returns.   So going into the election I pose three hypotheses:

1)   Obama’s ground game will be decisive in all close states, even those without early voting.   If Obama wins in states without no excuse early voting, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan and New Hamsphire, this hypothesis is supported.   I’ll compare polls near the election with actual results; if Obama out performs the polls, that’s a sign that early voting made a difference.

2)  Obama’s ground game will be very effective in states with early voting.   If Obama is successful in states like Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada and even Arizona, that will be a sign that a strong GOTV effort has a real impact on early voting.    If polls in states like North Carolina and Colorado show Obama behind but he pulls it out, that’ll be very strong evidence.    If he pulls off a surprise in a state like Arizona or others expected to go red but have extensive early voting, that will be very strong evidence for the efficacy of the ground game in states with early voting.

3)  Obama’s ground game will make no difference.   If voter turn out is down, especially among Democrats and demographics targeted by Obama’s GOTV efforts, his ground game will have failed.

If Obama ends up winning decisively and carrying states that people expect to go red like North Carolina, expect the Democrats to make an intensive ground came a core part of their strategy.  After all their voters are historically less dependable than are Republicans, a mix of early voting and a strong ground game might shift electoral dynamics.    The GOP may have less to gain, but if they’re beaten on the ground expect them to not make the same mistake again.


  1. #1 by pino on October 25, 2012 - 12:20

    The GOP may have less to gain, but if they’re beaten on the ground expect them to not make the same mistake again.

    To your point, I have been frustrated by the lack of organization on the part of republicans.

    I have called both the Romney campaign here in NC and the Wake County GOP offices saying that I’ll help do “anything they need me to do.” I have never been so much as called back much less contacted and requested to perform a task.

    Additionally, we have a local state House rep that is running for her 4-5th term. She collects her signs every year, stores them, buys some new ones during election time and gets ’em out on every corner. She is EVERY where. Romney is getting good coverage but no where near what this woman has. Why Romney doesn’t tag up with these local folks and parallel process I’ll never know.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2012 - 13:20

      The odd thing is that the ground game was racheted up by Karl Rove in 2000, and he expanded on that in 2004. Especially in North Carolina with early voting I’d think they’d be eager to enlist your help. If Obama wins (especially if he wins NC which does seem unlikely) that’s going to have to be the biggest focus of the GOP before 2016. It’ll also be really interesting to see if this has an impact on down ballot elections. Even if Obama loses NC, will there be Congress people or even people running for state office who lose because the Democrats turned out so many voters? I’ll be interested to hear your take on what actually happened after the election!

    • #3 by Norbrook on October 25, 2012 - 19:26

      Which is a serious contrast with what the Obama campaign has been doing. If you were to want to volunteer, you would have been contacted and put to work already. In fact, you could go to the OFA website, and get involved in phone banking – they have an app for that.

      One of the things that was considered “critical” in the Colorado Senate race in 2010 was that the Democrat had people knocking on doors all over the state, while the Republican just relied on ads and campaign appearances. The Democrat won.

  2. #4 by SShiell on October 25, 2012 - 16:59

    Obama had better have a ground game.

    First: The independent vote. In virtually every national and battleground poll taken since the first debate, Romney has had a definitive edge in the independent vote. This includes polls taken in the state of Ohio. In one recent poll that showed the race in Ohio deadlocked at 47-47, Independents went for Romney +15% (53-38%)! That’s a pretty big edge, definitive I’d call it!

    Second: Undersampling of Republican voters. In the same poll, The Democrat advantage over Republicans sampled was +8. That is greater than the Democrat turnout in 2008 (+7 from exit polls) in the state.

    Add to that the fact that in a year that most feel Republicans are energized and Democrats less so, also reflected in the polls, anything approaching the Dem edge from 2008 is, in my mind, wildly optimistic.

    Get the popcorn ready, this oughta be fun to watch – for some of us.


    • #5 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2012 - 17:07

      The undersampling claim has been debunked – sample changes and reflects outcomes. If you look at my website of polls, Obama is doing well in state polls (up 5 in a new Virginia poll) and in national polls there is a dead heat, with slight momentum to Obama, but really not enough to be statistically significant. Bookmakers (who have a lot to gain or lose) have Obama a heavy favorite, and they don’t do that by whim. On line betting averages like Intrade are also heavy Obama, as in Nate Silver’s column.

      Ohio polls have been up 3 to 5 for Obama, and Ohio early voting is heavily Obama. But in a race like this, anything can happen. For me the bookmaker and on line market odds are the most persausive that things are looking favorable for Obama. It’s hard to see Romney having anything but a very difficult path. Possible, but right now it’s not likely.

      • #6 by SShiell on October 25, 2012 - 17:53

        Keep whistling past that graveyard there Erb!

      • #7 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2012 - 18:29

        Yeah, but it’s fun playing with these scenarios. And if my guy loses, well, I’ll focus on races whose outcomes I liked (e.g., if Obama loses and Warren wins, I’ll find solace in that). Plus, 2014 will come quickly, and then 2016 right after that….still, if Obama is really in so much trouble, why do the bookmakers have the odds as they do?

      • #8 by SShiell on October 25, 2012 - 20:19

        Remember, the Baltimore Colts were 18 point favorites in Super Bowl III. Check back at Intrade in 2010 – the day of the midterms the odds were 50-50. Go figure!

        PS – I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you like Fauxcohontas!

      • #9 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2012 - 20:27

        Intrade was way off on the health care ruling by the Supreme Court. But they’re better on elections where there is a lot of data, than single games. Still, given all the book makers have Obama as favored by quite a bit, as do the models by people like Nate Silver, it’s a stretch to say Romney is pulling away. At best it’s close and Romney and Obama still can win.

    • #10 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2012 - 18:18

      Interesting other point. The tracking polls show Romney holding a lead. Most of the data in those are pre-debate (except Rasmussen, I think 2/3 of that is post-debate). The PPP state polls today that show Obama leading in Colorado, Virginia, Iowa, and Wisconsin, with a tie in North Carolina, are all post-debate. Those are better numbers for Obama than pre-debate polls by the same firm. But there is so much noise I’m willing to keep open the possibility that Romney is holding on to a national lead even post-debate. This is fun – though stealing far too much of my time.

      • #11 by Norbrook on October 25, 2012 - 19:27

        Conservatives – and the Romney campaign – have been pushing the idea that Romney has momentum, based on the polls. What Silver is pointing out is that “campaigns with momentum don’t have their poll numbers stop rising, and start moving back.”

      • #12 by Scott Erb on October 25, 2012 - 22:14

        Silver’s column on momentum was superb. We have float in the national polls (drifted Obama yesterday, Romney today), but it appears movement toward Obama in state polls. It is feasible we’ll see an electoral college/popular vote split. I do want to see if things change when all the data is post-debate, but in some ways we’re where we were last summer – tied.

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