Sunday, September 21, 2008

Obama's shock new election tactic

There are two closely related ways that well intentioned people, of all parties, try to sabotage the election campaigns of the party they support. The first is to complain that the campaign hasn't given them a poster to put in their window, and the second is to complain that they haven't been given a poster board to put in their garden.

FiveThirtyEight has a quite wonderful article about this:

"In a controversial move sure to upset millions of people, Barack Obama’s campaign has decided to forgo the traditional time-wasting distribution of chum (yard signs, bumper stickers, etc.) to try and win the election.

Settling on what they call a “get voters to register by approaching them on the phone and at the door with an army of volunteers” strategy, Obama’s senior staff has directed state, regional, and local field organizers to use their finite time to make tangible progress toward winning...

Despite Obama’s 100% name recognition, opponents of the “maybe worry about visibility after registration deadlines close” strategy pronounced the situation “dire” on the front page of Daily Kos yesterday.

Obama campaign strategists believe that, with their massive months-long, grinding-it-out-every-day registration plan, that 80 percent of those new registrations would vote for Obama, and that 75% of the newly registered voters will turn out. If 75% of an 80-20 split on 300,000 new registrants turns out, that’s Barack Obama adding 135,000 bonus votes to his total in Virginia alone. Organizers in Obama’s Virginia campaign offices have been sternly instructed to focus on those numbers by spending long, exhausting days recruiting volunteers instead of spending their limited time worrying about whether there are enough yard signs to go around...

Organizers – the people out there killing themselves to win this election – hate yard signs with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

Barack Obama’s organizers hate them. John McCain’s organizers hate them. It’s because yard signs don’t vote – but they do generate a ridiculous amount of complaining that must be patiently listened to. Until yard signs sprout little legs and go to the polls on Election Day, in a presidential election with universal name recognition they are just a nice little decoration.

They’re little feel good things, making you feel like you’re on the team. There is nothing wrong with that – that’s not the objection. The objection is that there is limited time for organizers to accomplish a wide array of prioritized tasks, and in this election they’ve chosen to prioritize identifying, registering, persuading and getting their voters to the polls. Yard signs cut into the organizer’s sleep time – literally.

A lot of people aren’t going to like hearing this truth, but organizers recognize that the majority of people who walk into offices for yard signs are, for volunteering purposes – and this is a technical term – useless. In the majority, these people are not going to knock, they’re not going to make phone calls. Instead, they are going to throw the organizer’s incredibly precious, sleep-deprived time down a bottomless abyss of irretrievability.

People who plant yard signs are maybe going to make their neighbors aware that they support a particular candidate, and in theory, if they live near voters who cede their opinions to peer pressure, they could theoretically be shading the influence of a vote here or there.

Here’s a little secret: there will always be exceptions, but people who spend a lot of time volunteering in campaign offices tend to get yard signs. Organizers know and love these people dearly, and they take care of them.

Every single person pouring real effort into this campaign knows what I’m writing is true. In every office we stop into, we ask both sides about yard signs. It’s unanimous. In good old purple Colorado, in Montezuma County, the Republican women volunteering at the local office pointed out how their signs read, “Paid for by the Montezuma County Republican Party.” They, too, had to generate their own local signs, and have to deal with unhappy people who stop in to get their prize but go away empty handed.

Yes, of course it would be nice to have more yard signs. If organizers had an infinite amount of time, they would be happy to pester their bosses up the ladder to see when they’re coming in. Then they’d love to chat with you about how someone stole or defaced them, and run a bunch of replacements right out.

But in the very purple, exurban Northern Virginia neighborhoods there is a problem. There’s a walk list sitting in a campaign office not being walked and knocked, and a newly-registered voter who projects as .45 of a vote for Obama is not being registered.


At 11:13 am , Anonymous tim f said...

This article is massively reassuring.

At 10:35 am , Anonymous Dan J said...

Yeah, wot he said.

I used to love signs around the constituency, saw them as a real morale booster and, more importantly, a way of raising awareness of the election itself. In one Parliamentary by election, I put a huge effort into getting as many up as possible - I even think there was a semi-offical competition between the ward campaign teams to see who could get the most up.

We got over 50 up in the two wards we were organising and were proudest of one at the home of a Labour voter who lived as close to the poling station as one could get while still maintaining legality regarding campaign material in the proximity of the ballot box. Even better, residents had to pass the house with the big Labour sign to get to the polling station which itself was next to the local tube station. All my Christmasses had come at once - and I was not the only one who thought so when we put the signs up.

That was Brent East 2003, and while no amount of organising and campaigning was going to avert the massive swing that occurred, it became crystal clear at the following general election that time supplying signs was time wasted. I still think posters can be an (incredibly loose) indicator of levels of support, obviously, but I'd rather have a fraction of those requesting signs (unusual anyway in my experience, residents have to be persuaded) or posters (much more frequent but almost equally useless in hard campaign terms) to actually come out on the doorstep, blitz or street stall. I think we should even consider charging for posters unless the person agrees to take a bundle and try and persuade the neighbours to follow thier example...

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