Republicans Tout a 2020 ‘Ground Game’ Advantage, But Is It For Real?

Obama field team

In one of the more bizarre political inversions of the 2020 campaign, Republicans claim that their superior field organizing will make up for Donald Trump’s consistent lag in the polls. With Biden’s field organizers leery of face-to-face voter outreach during a pandemic, will the party of Obama cede the grassroots to conservatives?

Not likely. Let’s break it down, based on news coverage, talks at last month’s Netroots Nation conference and yesterday’s Politico interview with Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon.

  • Both campaigns have 2000-2500 field staff deployed to approximately 17 states.
  • Both sides are contacting voters via phone, email, text and social media.
  • Republican field organizers are knocking on doors and dropping off campaign literature.
  • The Biden campaign is evaluating its practices based on safety. They’ll adjust tactics location-by-location and week-by-week and may start leaving literature on doorsteps soon.
  • Republicans claim they’ve knocked on more than 12 million doors since June.
  • Democrats claim they had around 2.5 million actual conversations with voters in August.
  • Some local Democratic candidates are politicking door-to-door regardless of what the national campaign is doing.
  • Democratic-aligned groups and activists have been organizing and protesting since the beginning of the Trump presidency, with a big boost this year from racial-justice protests.

Door-knocking aside, I don’t see any massive Republican advantage here, unless you think that leaving a flyer on someone’s welcome mat is a lot more valuable than a lengthy phone conversation. The Analyst Institute has found repeatedly that talking someone through their plan to cast a ballot is one of the few outreach methods that can actually make them more likely to vote, and a lit drop ain’t that.

Also, it strains credulity that a political party whose electoral successes over the past twelve years have revolved around community organizing will simply walk away from it. O’Malley Dillon pointed out in that Politico video chat that SHE’S a field organizer by trade, and so are many of the experienced political professionals now working for the Biden campaign. They’re busy figuring out HOW to mobilize the grassroots effectively during a lethal pandemic, understanding that campaigning safely and responsibly is central to Biden’s 2020 political brand. Plus, they’re working alongside literally thousands of local organizations and activist networks dedicated to running Trump out of office, so the campaign isn’t going solo down at the grassroots.

Meanwhile, Republican activists have every incentive to tout their own field work, which certainly sounds as though it’s better organized and more data-driven than Trump’s last-minute 2016 operation. Perhaps it’s even dramatically better than Republican presidential campaigns of the past. But achieving rough parity with Democrats won’t make up for a candidate down in the polls and too broke to advertise on television. To truly jump ahead of Democrats in field organizing, Republicans need a grassroots-campaigning moonshot. Leaving flyers behind after a door-knock is decidedly terrestrial.


Top photo: 2008 Obama field team

Written by
Colin Delany
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