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SUN Voters to give victory to Obama?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 06:56:57 AM EST

Sporadic, Unlikely, and New Registrant (SUN) voters are the key to this and any other election in the US because the US does not have automatic registration or mandatory voting. The acronym is apt, because the weather can have a strong influence on turnout. However there are also many other structural factors at play. Turnout was as low as 49 to 55% of the voting age population from 1972 to 2000 through a combination of non-registration or nonvoting by registered voters. People who do vote tend to be disproportionately white, older and wealthier than those who don't, and thus political reality has tended to have a conservative bias. So how has the Obama campaign sought to overcome this systematic bias?


The Supreme Court in its Citizen's United ruling effective copper fastened this position by equating corporations with people, and money with free speech. Consequently billions of "dark money" has entered the electioneering process through what are known as "SuperPacs" or huge political action committees which do not have to disclose their sources of funding. Mass corporate bribery by any other name.

The Republican Party, in particular, has also sought to benefit from this phenomenon by making it more difficult to register and vote particularly if you don't have accepted visual identification documents, private transport, or a lot of stamina and free time on your hands. In Florida, voters have had to stand in line for up to 9 hours to vote, thanks to Republican Governor, Rick Scott's reductions in early voting hours, locations, and voting machines available at voting locations.

In Ohio, GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted has become an infamous figure for aggressively limiting early voting hours (in Democratic leaning areas only) and in restricted the ability to cast or count provisional ballots. There have also been numerous instances of partisan election officials providing misleading or false information to voters in an attempt to suppress the vote.

However there are also structural factors which tend to discourage voters. The "first past the post winner takes all" system means there is little incentive for voters to bother voting if one party or the other has a clear lead - as indicated by often partisan and tendentious opinion polls. Gerrymandered constituencies at congressional and local levels mean there are more such "non-competitive" constituencies than would be generated by random and rural-urban factors alone. Consequently all election resources tend to be focused on a few "battleground" states and "competitive" races. There is also little incentive to vote if you do not support one of the two major parties as your chances of successfully electing your preferred candidate are almost nil.

The Obama for America campaign organization has sought to counteract many of these factors with one of the most remarkable change management programs I have ever seen. A combination of marketing, behaviour modification and information systems that any commercial organisation would be proud of - and all largely manned and powered by volunteers. A Memo from the Obama For America leadership team sets out the broad parameters of the approach:

"This morning, as our volunteer Neighborhood Team Leaders opened 5,117 get-out-the-vote (GOTV) staging locations in the battleground states that will decide this election, they began to execute the final phase of a ground game unlike any American politics has ever seen. These staging locations are even more localized versions of our field offices - set up in supporters' homes, businesses or any area that can serve as a central hub for a team's GOTV activities in the final days.

From these hyper-local Obama hubs, volunteers have signed up for 698,799 shifts to get out the vote over the final four days of this campaign, a number that grows by the minute as organizers continue assigning supporters who have expressed an interest in volunteering. These volunteer led GOTV staging locations embody what this campaign has been all about since we started organizing for change in 2007. The Neighborhood Team Leaders who are running our get-out-the-vote operation have been working in these neighborhoods for months, if not years.

Since we launched the re-election campaign in April 2011, those teams have been focused like a laserbeam on three things: 1) expanding the electorate by registering new voters, 2) persuading undecided voters, and then 3) turning out our supporters. On all three fronts, these volunteers have blown away our most optimistic expectations."

It's worth reading the memo in full to get a flavour of the strategy.  But what has been even more remarkable has been the the reports of volunteers on the ground.
Booman Tribune ~ Volunteering For The Campaign- Finally Walking The Walk

In my county in 2008, Obama's campaign had no office.  Volunteers met and coordinated their efforts from a local Panera Bread cafe. Early this year, I read about an OFA office opening just a mile from my office.  I decided to attend the "Grand Opening".  Since this is a very reliable Republican area, which went 67% for McCain in 2008, my expectations were not high.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived to find over 150 people crammed into this office space.  I was floored.  I had no idea there were even that many Democrats in our county.  The energy was palpable.  I felt like the prodigal son returning home.  It was incredible.  I didn't know it at that time, but I was hooked.

I signed a list to phone bank, wondering if I could really bring myself to do something like that.  A few days later the Regional Field Director called me and we had lunch.  From my discussions with him, I gained confidence that I could do this.  He brought up the idea of canvassing, which I wasn't so sure about.  But after a couple of sessions of phone banking, I knew I needed more than faceless conversations.  I had to go the next step and do something more personal.  I had to get some real skin in the game.  So in the early summer of this year, I volunteered to canvass.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was going to be a seminal moment for me.

As a canvasser in this area, it is easy to imagine that at every other door you walk up to you will be greeted by a scowling Sean Hannity or a growling Rush Limbaugh imitator, sending streams of spittle onto your face while screaming and calling you an Islamocommunifascist Nazi.  And I have to admit that when it came time for my first canvass, while I was outwardly confident and comfortable with what I was about to do, on the inside my stomach was churning. In my job, I have always had to deal with people and stressful situations.  But this was different. This was something which people take very personally and viscerally.  It was politics.  Honestly, I was kind of scared.

But what I found was that it was nothing like my wild imaginings. I found that people largely were respectful and polite.  I also found that there were a lot of very frustrated and worried people in my area who were thankful to have someone standing on their front porch asking them about their concerns.  Even those who were very blunt about their dislike for the President and his policies appreciated that someone was knocking on their door and asking them for their feedback.  I also found out that there were many people who looked at me as not just an anonymous surrogate for a distant politician, but as a representative of the President.  I quickly realized how important a role people like me were playing on the national level.  It was exciting, nerve wracking and humbling, all at the same time.  I discovered that these conversations were honing my ability to talk in depth about all of those issues and ideas that I had seen discussed in great detail here on this website and so many other places.  It was Political Basic Training, at its best.

Basically the OFA organisation has turned a large number of ordinary citizens in trained community organisers - with the skills required to work on all kinds of political and community campaigns in the future. But what has been even more remarkable, to me, is the level of organisation which has supported and reinforced this effort. Volunteers report being put in touch with their local OFA office almost immediately they contact OFA by phone or email. They report excellent follow-up work on all their questions and early commitments. They report good training and mentoring. But they also report a level of information systems support which most commercial sales and marketing operations can only dream of.

Volunteers are given call or knock lists when they are phonebanking or door knocking giving information on the previous voting history of the household. Early phone and knock lists focused not on reliable or "likely" voters who had voted in previous elections, but on "sporadic", unlikely and new registrant (SUN) voters who had only occasionally voted if at all. Where early or postal voting was available, they were encouraged to vote immediately. Once they voted they were sent a thank you e-mail, removed from phone and knock lists, and asked would they like to volunteer to get others to the polls. The campaign then moved on to the more "likely" voters to make sure they had the means to get to the polls etc. No calls were wasted on people who had already voted, or who had indicated they were not open to persuasion, one way or the other. The volunteer who phone banked a voter is often the same volunteer who door knocked them or gave them a ride to the polls facilitating the building up of a more personal relationship.

The early voting statistics in almost every state with early voting indicate a huge rise in the number of early voters, but also a significant rise in the number of voters registered as Democrats or others contacted by the OFA campaign. Republican voters have also voted in greater numbers (often reducing the Obama lead in early voters relative to 2008), but what these figures don't show is that while Republican voters are generally reliable voters voting early, the whole focus of the Obama early voting campaign has been to get SUN voters to the polls, voters who generally wouldn't have voted at all, and whose voters are thus a net addition to the Obama potential (and likely) vote total.

Another feature of the OFA information systems support has been the amount of micro-targeting of voters it enables. College age students are sent information on what the Obama administration has done to improve the cost and availability of student loans. Older voters are sent information on the improvements in their medical entitlements under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Data from the voting centres is integrated with the system each night to ensure that those who have voted are sent a thank you e-mail, and a suggestion that they might like to donate or volunteer.

The Romney campaign, on the other hand, seems to be based much more on TV advertising, robocalls, paid "volunteers" and blunderbuss direct mail campaigns - sending wildly inappropriate messages to the wrong demographics. GOTV efforts seem to be indiscriminately targeting likely as well as unlikely voters, thus reducing potential Republican turnout on Nov. 6th. Sending a pro-choice voter lurid information on abortions is not likely to change their mind and may even increase their likelihood of getting out to vote and voting Democratic. Republican operatives admit that OFA is "cleaning their clock" in Florida in particular. There is record African and Hispanic turnout in all early voting states and the traditional Republican advantage in mail-in voting has been eroded.

So how will all this effect the final outcome of the election? To a certain extend the effect of the OFA ground game is already "baked in the cake" as opinion polls take early voters into account in their "likely" voter models. There has been a pronounced swing toward Obama in the polls since his Denver first debate debacle. Whether it will be sufficient to swing Republican leaning swing states like Florida and North Carolina is still too close to call. A lot depends on to what degree Obama can hold onto the white vote. Even a 40% poll amongst white voters could result in a 6% margin for Obama - way beyond what any opinion poll is currently predicting.

The other concern I have is that there may have been insufficient linkage between the Presidential campaign effort and other, down ticket, races in this election. Obama will be able to do little in his second term if he has to deal with a Republican dominated Congress pursuing a scorched earth policy as in the past two years. I would have preferred an explicit and high profile "GIVE ME A CONGRESS I CAN WORK WITH" message from Obama - capitalising on the unpopularity of congress, and implicitly putting a lot of the blame for lack of progress on a "do nothing congress". It would also help to undercut Romney's message that he could work better with a Democratic Senate than Obama could with a Republican Congress.

Perhaps a low key approach, focusing on cooperation at ground level will work just as well and avoid raising fears of Democrats dominating all branches of Government. Perhaps also, different approaches are required in different states. In Indiana, for example, Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly seems to be polling better than Obama, so why risk a senate win for an unlikely and unnecessary win in the Presidential race by tying Donnelly too closely to Obama? In Nevada, on the other hand, Obama seems to be running ahead of Shelley Berkley, and she could probably do with the public linking her campaign to his as closely as possible.

However, what is not in doubt is that the OFA campaign has built an infrastructure which may enable the Democratic Party to counter-balance the effects of Citizen's United in the immediate future, and hopefully for as long as it takes for Obama to appoint a few more sane Supreme Court Justices. Hopefully it will also enable Democrats to obtain more control at local level, so that Republican voter suppression tactics are neutralized on the ground.

What seems clear, however, is that 2012, even more so than 2008, marks the beginning of a mobilisation of progressive and minority voters such as the country has never seen before. As US demographics change, a campaign such as that run by Romney, based largely on TV advertising, MSM control, corporate donations, voter suppression, and racial fears amongst older white and less educated males will never be viable again.

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I had a look at what people are saying of the house. First this:

Predictions 10/6: House of (un)Representatives

I have evaluated incumbency and redistricting advantages quantitatively. I now believe that these two phenomena contribute approximately equally to an overall advantage of R+2.5+-1.0%. In other words, Democrats need to win the popular vote by 2.5+-1.0% in order to achieve near-parity in House seats. I was wrong about thinking there was little tilt in the playing field. It's substantial.

Looking at Huffington Post's average of polls for generic ballot it is essentially even, which gives the victory to the Republicans. I don't know to how large degree results follow the generic ballot polls.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 07:12:55 AM EST
Nate Silver has estimated that due to gerrymandering it may take a 3-4% advantage in the generic polls to actually generate a majority on Congress, and the generic Democratic vote has tended to lag Obama's vote in the polls.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 07:27:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We can hope (ahem) but I remain staggered and appalled about how much voter suppression cheating takes place in US politics. It seems routine for democrats in contested areas to wait several hours to vote.

I just heard today that at the last general election in the UK some people had to queue for an hour with some losing out completely when the polls closed. Parliament itself is acting to ensure that all who want to vote can do so.

Wheras in the US, I think DC views it all as a big joke

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 07:52:46 AM EST
The problem is that constituency drawing, voter registration and the voting process itself is largely controlled at local level by often partisan officials and the GOP know this is their own way to hold back the tide of demographic change. As these are Federal Level elections, you would have thought Congress itself could prescribe the rules by which elections are conducted, but I am unclear as to what extent this would be seen as interfering with "states rights". As in all things it would probably require a large Dem majority in Congress and on the SCOTUS to push any major reform through.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 08:06:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As these are Federal Level elections, you would have thought Congress itself could prescribe the rules by which elections are conducted

Constitutionally, the responsability for elections is at the state level.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 09:50:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have seen conflicting opinions on the degree to which congress could regulate the holding of elections beyond just setting the date. The FEC regulates mainly camapaign contributions and disclosure and has been subject to some constitutional court challenges, but it is unclear to me whether or not Congress could enact additional legislation regulating the conduct of elections or extending the remit of the FEC to do so.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 10:41:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Congress could, however it has chosen not to do so.

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 10:51:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Obama would require a substantial Dem majority to pass anything worthwhile, and even then it would likely be overturned by the current SCOTUS as undermining State's rights.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 10:56:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This state and local responsibility IS, at least in theory, checked by federal and constitutional civil rights statutes and provisions.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 12:10:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure if this addresses the problem of voter suppression that you are speaking of, but a friend wrote to say that he had taken the last month off to help with the Obama campaign. His efforts had been in preparing and conducting training sessions for California lawyers planning to go up to Nevada to participate in voter protection, as well as recruiting folks to do it.

He said their recruiting efforts had been so successful that they had ended up with more people than they could use, and so diverted some of them to get out the vote canvassing, while his time had been spent rotating around sites doing front-line voter protection. He said it was mostly boring, but gratifying. The only down side he said, was that he only left Nevada long enough to get back to see Game 2 of the Giants at the park (like CH, he's a huge Giants fan).

It was his opinion that Obama was winning there, that the polls reflect that, and most of the Nevada-based campaign workers seem to agree.  The early voting figures also seem to indicate we're winning.

by sgr2 on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 11:32:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep - that's my reading of all the polls and early voting there as well. NC and FL are much tighter, though.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 12:26:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Its been deliberately made to be routine by a ongoing, forward looking effort by the conservative movement to make voting harder, starting in the 1970's.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Nov 7th, 2012 at 01:35:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Link Here

Not much discussion there yet though...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 12:32:03 PM EST
Bookie paying out to Obama punters - World News, Breaking News - Independent.ie

With just over two days to go before the US goes to the polls, one bookmaker is already paying out to punters who backed Barack Obama to win the election.

Despite national polls still showing an extremely tight race with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Paddy Power believe it is a done deal and that the incumbent president is a certainty to win.

The bookmakers have risked paying out £400,000 if Mr Romney wins but a spokeswoman said because Mr Obama remains ahead in the state polls, Paddy Power were "sticking their neck out".

Betting has been "one-way traffic" for Mr Obama, according to the bookmakers.

Prior to paying out, Mr Obama's odds fell to a low 2/9 and over the past months Paddy Power have seen 75% of money staked go the Democrat's way.

The spokeswoman said: "Romney gave it a good shot and is doing well in the popular vote, but we suspect he's had his moment in the sun and is likely to be remembered more for his legendary gaffes than presidential potential.

"The overall betting trend has shown one way traffic for Obama and punters seem to have called it 100% correct."

The bookmakers continue to offer betting right up to and including Election Day. One of the most popular bets currently on offer is predicting the winning margin of the successful nominee on November 6.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 07:48:17 PM EST
This is the very thing that led me to support Obama in the 2008 primaries, and I am incredibly pleased to hear that his organizing has only gotten better.  The more people that are brought into the political system and trained in its operations, the more chance that American Democracy has to pull out of its death spiral.  Only sustained and widespread political participation can defeat the bastards on the other side, and despite his many other faults, Obama's organization has no peer in its ability to train and mobilize volunteers - and in the process turn a good number of them into serious activists.
by Zwackus on Mon Nov 5th, 2012 at 10:42:48 PM EST
Not only is it a good way to beat the other bastards, but mass mobilisation in itself carries the potential to turn politics leftwards, as politicians are elected depending on their ability to mobilise a ton of people rather then a ton of money. And who your victories depends on shapes policies.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 6th, 2012 at 07:07:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The fundamental problem of the death spiral of American politics :

  1. Only middle-class (and above) people vote, so...
  2. Government only considers the interests of middle-class(and above) voters, so...
  3. go to 1

I haven't seen any change in that dynamic in the past 4 years. I would be delighted but surprised if the participation rate (including voter registration) were significantly higher than last time.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Tue Nov 6th, 2012 at 07:10:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Obama increased the % of the voting age population actually voting to 58% in 2008 - way above the recent historical range of 49-55% I referenced in the diary. I would expect this figure to go up again in 2012 - based on the ground game strategy I highlighted in this diary.

To take your argument to its logical conclusion: If 15% of the population is unemployed and has a lower propensity to vote and the 85% employed always vote in their own interests, why wouldn't he "natural" unemployment rate rise to 50% whereby the 50% employed vote more and always in their own interests?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 6th, 2012 at 07:25:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for pointing out the rising participation since 2000. I hadn't seen those numbers, and I find it impressive.

My next question is, where's the pay-off? Firstly, in terms of identifiable better outcomes for SUN voters; and secondly (and circularly) in terms of better results for the left?

I'm not being facetious : I seem to remember that the registration/voting drive for Kerry in 2004 backfired (insofar as a majority of those new voters actually voted for Bush).

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Nov 6th, 2012 at 07:44:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Strange as it may seem, Obama IS the mainstream left, as far as the US is concerned, at least for the next few years.

I haven't seen data for how new registrants voted in 2004 crosstabulated for who sought to ensure they were registered.  But as I understand it, the Obama ground game is targeting persuadable and unlikely but supportive voters and registering them. They are not  approaching, persuading, or registering people who have no propensity to vote for them based on a variety of indicators determined empirically in advance. See here for long, verbose, and wonky details

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 6th, 2012 at 08:41:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That article gives good reasons to hope that the polling underestimates Obama's support.

And a glimmer of hope for Congress, I guess.

It will certainly be encouraging for democracy if activists can beat PACs.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Nov 6th, 2012 at 09:27:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was wrong ... how odd!

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Wed Nov 7th, 2012 at 10:54:49 AM EST


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