Contrary to the impression conveyed in many media reports, I have been arguing that I have seen no clear sign that either Obama or McCain has run the more effective campaign, strategically speaking. Instead, media claims that Obama’s campaign is better organized is partly predicated on his massive advantage in money to spend. One way in which that advantage ought to manifest itself most heavily is in the get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. We would expect. Obama’s campaign to be more effective than McCain’s at getting people to the polls. This was a topic raised by Adam Lovell much earlier in the year, and we are now in a position to try to answer his question: which organization has the better GOTV?
Some 30 states have early voting, so we can use turnout in these states as an early indicator of the relative effectiveness of the GOTV for both candidates. Of course, states cannot report actual vote totals as yet, but several pollsters have been surveying the early voters, so we can draw some conclusions. CBS reports that about 25% of registered voters have already voted, and they report that early voters back Obama 56%-41%. Pew has 32% of likely voters already casting their ballots with Obama up 52%-39%.
However, how do we know that the Obama advantage in early voting is due to their GOTV superiority? Maybe it simply reflects the broader support for Obama more generally, as well as the greater level of enthusiasm shown by Obama supporters? One way to address the marginal impact of GOTV is to ask voters if they have been contacted by either the McCain or Obama campaign. Several pollsters have asked that question.
The Wall St. Journal/NBC polls find almost no difference in the likelihood of voters getting contacted by either campaign: 24% of voters were contacted by both candidates’ organizations, 10% by the Republican only, and 12% by the Democrats only. (Btw, this proportion almost exactly mirrors the contact data from 2004, but the number of contacts has almost doubled). So, in total, 36% of voters have been contacted by Obama, and 34% by McCain.
Gallup paints a somewhat similar picture; they find that 39% of registered voters have been contacted by the Obama campaign, but only 33% by the McCain campaign. . Interestingly, however, blacks report a much higher rate of contact – almost 4 times more – from Obama than from McCain.
Of course, not all contacts are the same: We know from previous studies that personal contact is the most effective way to get out the vote. Which organization is doing better at that? Fortunately, Pew breaks the contacts down by category: mailings, telephone calls (personal or automated) or personal visits. About 14% of registered voters have been personally contacted by someone from a campaign. Here we find that 18% of Obama supporters have received a personal visit, but only 10% of McCain supporters. McCain has tended to rely more heavily than Obama on direct mailings.
Not surprisingly, then, based on data through Nov. 1, it appears that the disparity in funding has provided an edge to Obama in terms of GOTV, particularly in his campaign’s ability to target potential supporters through personal contacts. (Truth in Advertising: I should acknowledge here that my oldest son did door-to-door canvassing for the Obama campaign this summer. You should NOT take that as an expression of my partisan leanings or support for either candidate, however.) Of course, we will know just how much of an edge tomorrow. But this could prove crucial in the 5 battleground states on which hinge McCain’s very slight chance to pull out an Electoral College victory.