Early Voting, National Polls, Bachmann, Biden and…er….Hard Wood

Here’s what’s happening in the presidential race:

First, within the next two days, half of all states will see residents begin casting their presidential ballot, through some combination of either early or absentee voting provisions. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to Election Day. All states offer some form of absentee ballots, with 27 of them, along with D.C., permitting any qualified voter to request an absentee ballot with no explanation needed. In 21 states, an excuse is needed.  Approximately 46 million people, or a bit more than 1/3 of voters, are expected to take advantage of these provisions in this election cycle – up from the 30% who did so in 2008.  Typically, non-Hispanic whites make up a greater proportion of the early vote than they do the election-day turnout (this was the case in the 2010 midterms), so it is crucial that Romney – who is likely to draw more heavily on this voting bloc – already have his get-out-the-vote (GOTV) organization in place.  Note, however, that in 2008, minorities were a greater proportion of the early vote than they were on Election Day – a testament to both the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy and his superior GOTV organization. I expect the Romney camp to do better with the early vote than did McCain four years ago. But it is a reminder that the campaign season is actually shorter than the election calendar indicates, which builds on a point Stuart made in his comments on my last post: among a sizeable chunk of voters, the time for Romney to close the gap is shorter than you might realize

Speaking of gaps – or a lack thereof – Obama campaign manager Jim Messina is downplaying daily tracking polls by Gallup and by Rasmussen that show Obama and Romney in a dead heat.   Messina argues that we should focus instead on the battleground states, most of which see Obama leading in the polls.  Because of Obama’s lead in these key states, Messina believes, “[T]he national polls aren’t relevant to this campaign.”

I would make two points here. First, while it is true that both the Gallup and the Rasmussen national daily tracking polls are showing, as of this morning, that Obama and Romney are tied, most other national polls are still showing Obama leading this race.  As a result, in the RealClearPolitics aggregate poll, Obama still leads by 3.3%, 48.1-44.8%.  In my view, that national number is more telling than the statewide polls in battleground states, mainly because  – as I’ve said several times before – Obama is unlikely to win the Electoral College while losing the national vote. Yes, it can happen – but I wouldn’t want to count on it.  So, national polls matter – if Romney gains nationally, he’s likely to pull closer in the battleground states as well.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann continues to raise more campaign dough than anyone else in the House aside from Speaker Boehner himself, and she does it largely through small contributions. I note this because journalists often cite small donors as better representing middle America, as opposed to wealthy fat cat donors who contribute big checks in order to buy political access.  The reality, however, as my colleague Bert Johnson has talked about, is that these small donors are typically drawn not from moderate voters, but instead from the two parties’ extreme partisan wings.  That’s why Bachmann, one of the Republican Party’s more conservative members, does so well raising money in small bills.  Similarly, Obama’s advantage over Romney among small donors – 30% of his contributions last month were in donations of $200 or less last month – probably should not be read as a sign that he is drawing better among moderate voters, or is somehow tapping into “middle” America. Instead, these are the party activists who are representative of the very group that make it so difficult for elected officials to bring change “from the inside”.

Finally, there’s this latest Joe Biden story – another reminder of why part of me secretly hopes Obama wins reelection and we get four more years of Joe on the national stage.  Last week the Vice President made an unscheduled stop at a high school in Newport, New Hampshire – a key battleground state – where he gave a shout-out to the various sports teams – football, soccer, lacrosse, etc.  – dressed in their uniforms.  Joe then asked if any other teams were represented:

“Cheerleaders,’’ a group of girls shouted.

“Guess what, the cheerleaders in college are the best athletes in college.’’ VPOTUS told them. “You think, I’m joking, they’re almost all gymnasts, the stuff they do on hard wood, it blows my mind.’’

“Anyway it’s so great to see you guys.’’

To avoid any trouble, I think I’ll simply stop here, and let Joe have the last word.

Scratch that last line.  Let’s let Jill Biden have the last word (video link courtesy of Kate Hamilton):

4 comments

  1. Regarding GOTV operations: are they more effective the closer one gets to election day? Or are they better assets to have somewhat earlier in a race? In other words, are voters suggestible (possibly wrong choice of word) earlier or later?

    My guess is that as election day approaches, minds are already made up about candidates, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually go-out-and-vote. Right? Lots of talk about ground game in the press this week made me wonder…

  2. Polemarchus – Great question. Although a lot of people thought that turnout would go up as more states adopted versions of early voting, including all-mail elections,that hasn’t necessarily been the case. It turns out that most of the early voters are individuals who were likely to vote anyway, which makes sense if you think about it. In that sense, then, GOTV efforts would appear to be marginally more useful late in the race, in getting out the voters who may be undecided or not paying much attention or less inclined to vote in any case. Obviously, campaigns want strong ground games at all points in the race, which makes early voting GOTV critical. My sense is that the Romney campaign is better prepared at this than was McCain in 2008, but I based that mostly on anecdotal evidence.

  3. Thanks for the reply. Makes sense. Is there any good academic research on your first point – maybe some analysis of the impact of the introduction of various early voting systems? Just curious.

  4. Matt, I think your sense about Romney doing better than McCain in GOTV is simply reliant upon Mitt’s executive ability to organize an endeavor and make sure it is well executed.

    Hold that thought; it will reveal itself all the way through this election. Mitt is a “hands on” manager who has repeatedly demonstrated that talent. Why would it fall apart now?

    Remember, he has managed the money, a more and more significant part of this race, so well that Obama could run short and be flooded in the very states in which he has been trying to bury Mitt.

    The sprint to the finish starts soon, just after the last debate, or perhaps sooner.

    We will all see if Mitt has managed this race so that he has the sprint at the end and hits his stride as the election is upon us.

    Obama has NEVER been in a really tough election where he was out spent. Until now.

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