Archive for November 4th, 2012

Are Small Online Donors the Key (and Largely Overlooked) Factor in the Presidential Race?

Two days from the presidential election, here’s where we stand: tight in the popular vote, but with a small but consistent Obama lead in the bulk of the battleground states. Both campaigns are spending big money on TV ads, and Obama’s grassroots turnout operation is about to go into full gear.

Plenty of factors shaped the race and put us where we are now: the economy, the debates, the conventions and even the weather. But one fundamental fact has driven the campaigns’ tactics and strategy behind the scenes, in Obama’s case from the beginning of the race: Obama built a base of small-dollar online donors, and Romney didn’t. Obama’s lead in the battleground states? The relative equality of the ad war? Obama’s turnout machine? All dynamics driven by the Obama campaign’s ability to tap small donors again and again — and Romney’s lack of the same. Let’s see how we got here.

Advertising

Remember June and July, after Romney survived the primaries and Republican donors’ wallets opened up for him? Money poured into the Republican’s bank account and Democrats trembled to think of the ad barrage it would fund. One tiny example: in a typical left-wing fundraising email from that period (subject line: “We’re getting beat”), MoveOn begged supporters to give money in part because “Romney’s just out raised President Obama for the third straight month.” Likewise, Citizens United and related court cases were supposed to allow “independent” conservative groups to pummel Democrats into insensibility with a wave of political ads unlike anything ever seen.

Anyone living in a battleground state (or one with a competitive Senate race) will attest that the predicted ad deluge hit — to the benefit of local TV stations and to harm of anyone with taste, style and operational brain cells. But the ads mostly seem a wash, with the Left largely matching the Right in numbers of spots run (though targeted Congressional races may be a different story). One set of presidential-level TV ads DO seem to have made a difference, though: the wave of Obama spots that sought to define Romney as a job-destroying, out of touch corporate raider in the summer. As they were on the air, observers pointed to them as already swinging battleground polls in the President’s direction; even now, they seem to have helped create a “firewall” against a late Romney surge.

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Obama’s Grassroots Endgame: 5117 GOTV Staging Areas, 698,799 Volunteer Shifts and a Sustained Local Focus

Taegan Goddard links to an Obama memo laying out the campaign’s case for the power of his grassroots field operation to turn out the vote:

“This morning, as our volunteer Neighborhood Team Leaders opened 5,117 get-out-the-vote (GOTV) staging locations in the battleground states that will decide this election, they began to execute the final phase of a ground game unlike any American politics has ever seen. These staging locations are even more localized versions of our field offices – set up in supporters’ homes, businesses or any area that can serve as a central hub for a team’s GOTV activities in the final days.

From these hyper-local Obama hubs, volunteers have signed up for 698,799 shifts to get out the vote over the final four days of this campaign, a number that grows by the minute as organizers continue assigning supporters who have expressed an interest in volunteering. These volunteerled GOTV staging locations embody what this campaign has been all about since we started organizing for change in 2007. The Neighborhood Team Leaders who are running our get-outthe-vote operation have been working in these neighborhoods for months, if not years.”

After more numbers — 1,792,261 new voters registered in battleground states — and a quick overview of the case that Obama’s leading heavily in early voting, the memo discusses the technology and training that made all this possible. It closes memo closes with a powerful summary of how this grassroots operation is different from any national field effort in the past:

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