Can Obama’s Usual Get-Out-The-Vote Tools Work in a Midterm Year?
Clip and save: Nate Cohn, writing in the New York Times, writes that the usual Obama campaign turnout tools can’t and won’t be effective on a large scale in a midterm election:
Much of the optimism on Democratic turnout stems from Mr. Obama’s successful turnout operation in 2012, or from experiments showing large increases in turnout when voters receive targeted mailers or contacts. But political scientists and campaign operatives found that even Mr. Obama’s impressive ground operation was worth less than one point in his presidential elections.
Boy, that conclusion hasn’t permeated the conventional wisdom about 2012, has it? Here’s Ryan Enos and Anthony Fowler, writing at the site of GW political-science professor John Sides:
Among these select groups, we estimate massive campaign effects of 15.4 percentage points for registered Democrats and 13.8 percentage points for Republicans. These numbers suggest impressively effective mobilization efforts by BOTH the Obama and Romney campaigns.
Despite all the celebration of the Obama campaign’s technological and other superiority, their campaign only had a 1.6 percentage point advantage over Romney in turning out party registrants. Of course, we don’t know whether Democratic registrants are inherently more difficult to mobilize than Republican registrants (although we find similar effects in 2008 before the Obama campaign had adopted the technological innovations of 2012, casting further doubt on the importance of these innovations). Also, keep in mind that the 1.6 percentage point difference that we detect may have been enough tip the election in a very close state like North Carolina in 2008, so the Obama mobilization effort may have helped to pad Obama’s victory. Nonetheless, these preliminary results suggest that the praise for Obama’s 2012 campaign may be overblown. Both campaigns appear to have been effective in mobilizing voters, and the 2012 Obama campaign was not dramatically more effective than Romney’s campaign or Obama’s 2008 campaign.
The thing is, wouldn’t a get-out-the-vote effort be minimally effective in a hugely covered mega-event like a modern presidential campaign, compared to a midterm election, off-year election, or special election? In other words, if an election is big enough, most people don’t need to be reminded to come out and vote, while they would in the less-covered, lower-profile election years.
Back to Cohn:
And those experiments are usually conducted in extremely low-turnout elections, like a local mayoral race, in which there are many more marginal voters. Finding people who are potential voters but not existing voters in a national election is harder.
Even Democratic operatives know the limits of the ground game. In a New Republic cover article that otherwise suggested that a strong turnout operation could solve Democratic problems, Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, conceded that field operations would “only solve our problem if the election is a close one.”
He discusses Terry McAuliffe’s efforts in Virginia in 2013 and notes:
But Mr. McAuliffe’s win was narrow — especially considering the tepid Republican effort. And no Democratic turnout effort will revitalize the so-called Obama coalition of young and nonwhite voters in an off-year election. The levels of voter interest in a midterm election and presidential election are simply too different. Indeed, Mr. Kreisberg said the McAuliffe campaign didn’t aim to match 2012 turnout; it was mainly focused on outperforming turnout in 2009.
He adds, “Democrats won the 2006 midterms in a landslide partly by winning voters over 60.” Gallup observed earlier this year:
U.S seniors — those aged 65 and older — have moved from a reliably Democratic group to a reliably Republican one over the past two decades. From 1992 through 2006, seniors had been solidly Democratic and significantly U.S seniors — those aged 65 and older — have moved from a reliably Democratic group to a reliably Republican one over the past two decades. From 1992 through 2006, seniors had been solidly Democratic and significantly more Democratic than younger Americans. Over the last seven years, seniors have become less Democratic, and have shown an outright preference for the Republican Party since 2010. more Democratic than younger Americans. Over the last seven years, seniors have become less Democratic, and have shown an outright preference for the Republican Party since 2010.
And here come the Obama administration’s home-health-care Medicaid cuts.
Coming soon to a voting booth near you: Irate senior citizens.