Over the last twenty or so years I have seen the development and sophistication of political ground games and their GOTV efforts. Previous to this century it was pretty much attempt to organize volunteers into phone banks, drop lit teams and have drivers available to take disabled to the polls on election day. Early voting was the occasional absentee voter who had to submit a statement or affidavit attesting to their inability to vote on election day where in many states the absentee vote was counted only if the race was close much like provisional ballots. All this has changed where now GOTV is not a four day race, but a month-long marathon often encompassing more than half the electorate in a state.
In 1992, 2000 and 2004 I worked in WI on their GOTV efforts which in Racine County was mostly managed by the AFL-CIO instead of the Democrats or the Presidential campaigns. I went to a union hall and sat in a phone bank and called from lists asking if they were going to vote and if they needed assistance. There were few canvass teams and most of them were simply drop lit teams fanning out to Democratic rich voting areas. In 2006 I was a rookie precinct committee-person and was folded in with a State Legislative candidate and Governor campaigns and was given walk and phone lists where again the objective was simple and call Democrats to encourage them to vote on Tuesday.
In 2007 and 2008 I was a volunteer lead with the Obama campaign where suddenly there was a science or discovery of a science in GOTV efforts. What they did was first seek to identify volunteers at numbers undreamed about to use for over a month in 2008. Even then we had phone bank teams but there were canvass teams that were deployed in the final month. First we concentrated on all D's and identified U's and R's who had PMV (permanent mail in voter) and then as the election weekend came closer we started working sporadic and lazy Dem's until the early vote season was over.
McCain and the Republicans were overwhelmed by a new model. The Republican ground game model is entirely the purview responsibility of the RNC through the State Party organizations. This is a top-down approach where the RNC hires firms like Strategic Alliance to create contracted field operatives. Their database is primarily voter files that are then augmented by four other private databases of conservative groups that identify demographics like NRA, white evangelical voter lists, Tea Party rallies, etc. This model is still in place today. In 2008 it resulted in the following: These figures are summarized below as looked into by Nate Silver:
One of the more interesting questions posed on this year's exit polls was whether the voter had been contacted by the Obama and McCain campaigns personally about getting out to vote. Unfortunately, the exit poll consortium did not ask this question in all states, but it did in a dozen or so competitive statesSo 2012 the Obama Team upped the ante and improved their developing science two-fold again. This time I see that their contact rate will exceed 75%, possibly more and multiple times in most cases. Details after the jump over the squiggle waves.
% of Voters Reporting Direct Contact from CampaignsState Obama McCain GapThe Obama campaign had a superior contact rate in 11 of the 12 battlegrounds; the only exception was West Virginia. 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.
NV 50% 29% 21%
CO 51% 34% 17%
IN 37% 22% 15%
VA 50% 38% 12%
PA 50% 39% 11%
IA 41% 30% 11%
FL 29% 20% 9%
NC 34% 26% 8%
MO 44% 37% 7%
OH 43% 36% 7%
WI 42% 39% 3%
WV 29% 31% -2%
The summer of 2011 I got my first invite to an OFA (Organization for America) in Colorado commencing the beginning of the political season and the ground game. OFA had hired a State Director and about a dozen Field Organizers where they would seek to develop volunteer leaders and teams, mostly doing two things, recruiting more volunteers and making direct internal polling into specific targets. This of course was all setting the foundation for now, the GOTV season but there was much work to do beforehand.
Summer and fall moved into winter as there was just call banking after call banking but unbeknownst to many a volunteer they were probing the market for Unaffiliated, Sporadic or Lazy Dem's and closet D's registered as Republicans. More and more volunteers were identified for now and the future. And this leads me to explaining the biggest difference between the D's and R's approach. Democrats have a coordinated and integrated online and decentralized database called Vote Builder, the brain child and legacy of Howard Dean. Vote Builder is actually two parallel databases running side by side, one a voter file replicating the government's voter file and then the campaign voter file as developed by campaigns; Presidential, Fed candidate, statewide, district, county and even precincts. Each campaign purchases a license where they import data about voter contact files and intel and then after the election it is uploaded into the master database. Therefore voter files are updated and integrated so that a state legislator candidate can use updated data just like the presidential campaign, but not each others campaign intelligence. The Republicans do not have this and don't have the culture to integrate a distributed network system and still a central database.
Now it is summer time 2012 and now I am canvassing door to door in my current precinct which I the co-chair committeeman. We had a reorganization in the county and they reduced by more than half the number of precincts essentially making them larger, ours grew by double and a half. Essentially there are 900 D's, though 711 are considered active, meaning recently registered or updated or have voted in the last three years. There are also a 950 Unaffiliated (600 active) and 750 Republicans (575 active), it is a big precinct and one of the best voting Democratic precincts in the county. I volunteered to walk for both the state legislator candidate and OFA and both had entirely different walk lists or targets.
The House District candidate running for re election knocked on all active Dem's, passed on inactives, and ID'd U's and R's from his own intelligence. His knocks were simply drop some literature and ask for the vote and support. OFA's targets were Sporadic Dems (voted in 2008), inactive Dem's registrants or active D's with lapsed PMV or non PMV status, Unaffliateds in D homes, women U's under 50 years old and women R's under 35. Also our knock was to seek to re up a voter registration if ID'd an Obama leaning or Obama supporter. All active Dem's were already called seeking volunteers or inviting to Pres speeches.
As October approached they had identified who were those whom they were going to target immediately to GOTV, sporadic D's, lazy D's, U's and R's where they sent out their now flush with volunteers to knock on doors. PMV voters were targeted as were non PMV to go early vote. Phone banking was to call for volunteers on active D's who had voted or intended to vote. See the difference.
Now in my precinct I see volunteer canvassers every evening, they have about twenty door knocks. In turn I have dovetailed out of the OFA effort and am helping the State Legislator candidate but I am calling all D and identified U/R voters who have voted yet in precincts not covered. Finally this weekend I concentrated on my precinct where there were still 102 PMV votes outstanding even though 83% D's have turned in. Only about 68 doors many are two voting families or some have students or military. But here is an anecdote.
As I was talking to a male in the house on the phone about his son's PMV vote, there was a door knock for his wife, she was a U he was a D, had voted but his son had a PMV ballot out as he was in the military which is why I was calling. He answered the door where the OFA volunteer asked for his wife where they inquired if her Mail in ballot was not in yet. He laughed and said wow your on the phone and at my door at the same time! They didn't had his son's name on their list but had the intel that he was active duty, I didn't, and he told us all that the ballots were mailed in.
This is ground game and it is GOTV but the OFA model is far more scientific. OFA has called in the past from our inactive registration still on the books in WI. They called for volunteers for our 21 year old son and 24 year old daughter. They called for my wife and of course me. I had a union man stop by the house and I am an official.
Finally chew on this, Friday's early vote totals; Source, how many are those sporadic, lazy dem's above 2008?
Votes: 1.6 million
Democrats: 29 percent
Republicans: 23 percent
Votes: 1.6 million
Democrats: 35 percent
Republicans: 37 percent
Votes: 4.3 million
Democrats: 43 percent
Republicans: 40 percent
Democrats: 43 percent
Republicans: 32 percent
Democrats: 44 percent
Republicans: 37 percent
Votes: 2.7 million
Democrats: 48 percent
Republicans: 32 percent