Saturday, September 1, 2012

The asymmetric ground game

[See update below]

A few years ago I did a study looking at the use of field offices by the Obama and McCain campaigns in 2008. One of the findings was that Obama was absolutely overwhelming McCain in the establishment of field offices. (The Obama folks established over 700 offices nationwide, compared to fewer than 400 for the McCain team.) I had assumed that this difference was the result of Obama having so much more money to spend.

But look at what's happening this year. I went through the campaign websites (here and here) to tally up the number of field offices in the 11 swing states I examined for my paper. Romney has no shortage of money, but Obama's field offices outnumber Romney's in each state.*  

I had figured earlier that these differences were a result of the fact that Obama just had an early head start while Romney was still slugging it out in the primaries, but by this late date, I'm not so sure. It seems more like the campaigns have different philosophies when it comes to deploying campaign resources, with the Romney folks believing they can win in the air and the Obama folks believing this will be won on the ground.

It may also be that field offices are a better investment for Democrats than for Republicans. (Notably, my paper found that Obama's 2008 field offices helped him win in a few states, while McCain's didn't help him nearly as much.) Democrats traditionally turn out at lower rates than Republicans; perhaps the field offices can help Democrats mitigate that. Also, field offices may be vital for Democrats in overcoming new voter ID laws by communicating voting requirement information directly to voters.

*I'm not sure what's going on with Indiana. I find it unlikely that Romney's team actually has no offices there at all. This could be a record-keeping problem.

Update on 9/4/12: I'm not sure what happened since last week, but I now can't confirm that either campaign has a presence in Indiana. I've updated the chart above to reflect that.


  1. Where's New Hampshire? Our town (Portsmouth, NH) has very active Obama filed office.

    Do you think the "ground game" has much influence beyond what is reflected in the polls? Having someone knock on your door and invite you to come vote for Obama might help get to you come out and vote. But I would think it would also get you to tell a pollster that your going to vote.

    Is the effect of the "ground game" baked into the polls? Or is there evidence to suggest a strong GOTV effort can help candidates out-perform their polls?

  2. Looks like NH has 7 Romney offices and 20 Obama offices. Consistent with the other states.

    I haven't studied field office efforts as they relate to polling, but my assumption would be that they'd give the candidate a boost above what the polls suggest. They pull out people who may not necessarily be "likely" voters. Now, we're only talking about a half a percentage point difference or so -- not the kind of thing you'd be able to tell with a poll of 1,100 people. So there may be an effect but it's probably not detectable.

  3. Much more surprising is Obama having so many offices in Indiana, a state that no one considers to be in play this year. Are you sure those aren't offices from 2008 showing up in your search?

  4. I think this was actually covered earlier. Indiana is such a red state that Romney figures that if he's lost Indiana (like McCain did in 2008) he has much much larger problems elsewhere (like McCain did in 2008).

  5. Not sure where you found all of those Obama Indiana field offices. I'm 90 percent sure the only one is in Indianapolis.

  6. Nathan and theditor, I don't know if it was my error or if the website information changed, but I can't confirm the presence of any Indiana field offices now. Thanks for noticing the problem. I've amended the text above to reflect the new information.

  7. I wonder if the (supposedly) independent PACs are part of the strategy. Maybe Romney isn't favoring an air war over deploying ground troops, but instead is relying on Dick Army's Freedomworks, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and various organizations funded by the Koch brothers to do the registration drives and GOTV stuff.

  8. I want to ask ALL of you to read a couple of articles that will show many of the things that President Obama has done for America since he has been elected president. On your computer do a Google search for the following articles. The first article is called ‘Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments’ and the second article is called ‘The Incomplete Greatness Of Barack Obama’, the third article is and the forth is what-do-americans-think-of-obamas-performance-as-a-president/. Then do a search for ‘President Obama’s accomplishments. And Google in President Obama’s accomplishments. Another great article about Romney and Bain is written by Matt Taibbi and can be viewed by doing a Google search for ‘Greed and Debt, The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital. Also Google in ‘The Federal Bailout That Saved Romney. Another shocking article to look up on your computer by doing a Google search is ‘Romney, Bain, and El Salvador’ witch is about how Romney helped in one way or another to finance terrorist in El Salvador that killed 75,000 peasants and wounded and terrorist many thousands more. They even killed a Bishop as he was saying Mass. Romney knew about these slayings yet kept financing these terrorist in one way or another. Also we have to get people to go to President Obama’s web site to read the MANY things on the web site that shows what President Obama has done. Also on the Obama web page is a lot of information about what Romney has done at Bain that isn’t being told by the news media that the public need to know before the election. Unfortunately all that President Obama has done for America and why he did what he has done hasn’t been put out to the public enough. So please get as many other people as you can in every way that you can to also read these articles. Use Facebook, e-mails, twitter, word of mouth or other ways to get people to read these articles. We have to do this soon. What I would like is for many of you to join in and let’s put on a campaign to have these articles printed and mailed to every household in every state. Do the closely contested states first. We ALL have to chip in to make sure that President Obama and the Democrats win and that the Republicans lose. Read my web page at for more information about President Obama’s presidency and how he handled it It is on the Current Events section and on the Home section of my web page at the bottom half of the section.

  9. GOTV is the game for Democrats right now. They didn't do enough in 2010 and they felt it, I think. Obama has always embraced field plans and GOTV. The newer philosophies of it have been floating around Dem campaigns for years. I have some theories as to why. I think the Dems have honed these techniques quite well in a lot of places. It's actually a sight to behold, when you get to witness it.