Thursday, October 25, 2012

The asymmetric ground game continues

Two months ago, I noted the striking differences in the numbers of field offices the presidential campaigns have established in the swing states. I figured I'd check up on those numbers as we go into the home stretch of the election. Here's what the field office totals look like now:
The differences are still pretty striking. With the exception of New Mexico, Obama has at least twice the number of field offices in each of the states. The Obama campaign actually has 131 field offices in Ohio, compared to 39 for the Romney campaign.

I had expected the numbers to even out or at least approach parity, but that's not happening. Here's a chart showing the growth in the number of field offices since I first checked on 8/31/12:
In every state except North Carolina, Obama has been building offices far faster than Romney has. Romney actually has nine fewer Florida offices than he did two months ago. (Maybe this is a record keeping error?)

As I mentioned in my previous post, it's not entirely clear what this means. Yes, I have a paper showing that field offices matter -- they helped Obama win three states he'd have otherwise lost in 2008. But that, of course, is no guarantee that offices will have the same sort of effect this time around. And I don't fully comprehend Romney's approach to field offices here. I have a few ideas, though:

  1. He doesn't think they'll yield him the same sort of electoral payoff that the Obama folks are counting on, so he's investing more in ads.
  2. He believes his offices can each cover more territory than the Obama offices can.
  3. He's counting on field organizational efforts from the parties, church organizations, and other allied groups to do the same sort of things that the Obama offices are doing.
These are all possibilities. Regardless of the concept behind it, we're seeing very different approaches to the ground game this year.

UPDATE: Molly Ball's piece in The Atlantic on this topic is great, adding a lot of details and context. Don't miss it.

9 comments:

  1. Are all field offices equal? Any sense of whether Obama's FOs are similarly staffed across a given state and/or staffed in similar numbers as Romney's? We're not talking about one or two people sitting in an empty room, right? Also, it seems like there could be a connection between Romney's approach to fewer FOs and his less intense travel schedule. Conversely, Obama has far more FOs and has a fuller schedule of campaign stops.

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    1. Michael, these are great questions, and I wish I had answers for you. (Although check out Molly Ball's piece for some ideas along these lines.)

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  2. Seth, I was wanting to know if this difference in ground game is similar to the difference in in the GOTV. It seems that the early vote is more of a priority for the Democratic Party and the 72 hour program is still what the Republican Party relies. If that is the case then your data may just be showing a difference in GOTV because the push for early voters starts earlier and takes more time while the last minute push takes less time but more volunteers for that time. There also may be differences in usage of phones and door knocking for the two campaigns. More offices makes it easier to go door to door because the offices would be closer to the volunteers. Your thoughts?

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    1. Yes, there are important party differences here, and it seems clear that the Democrats put more of an emphasis on early voting. Also, historically, Democrats turn out in lower percentages than Republicans do, so Obama organizers probably feel these offices help for them to address that deficit.

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  3. "He's counting on field organizational efforts from the parties, church organizations, and other allied groups to do the same sort of things that the Obama offices are doing."

    Every Evangelical church is a Republican field office now. People not in the heartland don't realize how pervasive this is.

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    1. Yes, I'm getting that impression. That's a great benefit for the Republicans to a point, but it's possible that the churches and the Romney campaign may have different priorities in some places. They may disagree on messages, which down-ballot candidates to support, etc.

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  4. As someone who grew up in Michigan politics. Two thoughts come to mind.

    1) Democrats often are able to gain office space in buildings owned by local union shops. Republicans sometimes receive unused office space from GOP donors, but this seemed less common to me.

    2) It is worth noting that in a state like Ohio the GOP vote is spatially scattered across many rural counties, while the Democratic vote is concentrated mostly in urbanized counties. My expectation is that the ratio of field offices should be reversed based simply upon political geography.

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    1. On point 2, this is true, but there are still Democrats in more rural areas who usually don't get contacted by Democratic campaigns. I think the Obama offices are designed to maximize their turnout. A Democratic vote in Salida counts the same as one in Denver when it comes to winning the Colorado's electoral college votes.

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  5. As the dust settles, I'd be very interested to see you go back and look at this question again.

    I've seen a number of Republicans saying "we were beaten by the Democratic ground game", but why were they surprised? Why didn't they see this coming months ago, when you did?

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