Three statistics from the Obama polling day operation that you can learn from

Obama website screenshotSorting through some old documents over Christmas, I came across again the 2012 Obama Campaign Legacy Report.

Even allowing for it being a public document written by the Obama campaign about its own performance, it is well worth a read, not only for explaining what happened in 2012 but also its tips on the best way to run elections in the future.

I was particularly struck by the figures for polling day itself:

More than 100,000 Obama for America canvassers knocked on more than 7 million doors and twice as many volunteers called voters to make sure they got to the polls.

Or in other words:

  • For every one person who went doorknocking, two were on the phones – an important organisational point as, in Britain, polling day operations of all parties are usually geared up to have helpers who go out on the doorstep, with a bit of phoning on the side. (Caveat: rarely talked about is how easy or hard it is to get phone numbers for voters in the US compared to the UK; from what I’ve seen it looks to be easier in the US, which goes therefore with phoning being a more important part of their campaigns.)
  • ‘Only’ 100,000 went doorknocking – it is a big number in many ways, but remember that the US is six times the UK’s population, so in British terms think of that as being around 16,500 people across the country, or about 25 per Parliamentary constituency. For a ground operation repeatedly¬†praised for its size, that is a pretty low figure. Even big ground operations don’t result in that many people on the ground compared to the number of votes needed to win. (In Britain, those 25 people would be doorknocking in a seat where typical 15,000-20,000 votes is are needed to win.) Which is where good use of data is so important in order to make effective use of the relatively low number of helpers compared to the number of voters out there.
  • Doorknockers did not do that much doorknocking – those 100,000 averaged a bit over 70 doors each (taking the 7 million figure and assuming that it wasn’t that much higher else a larger number would have been quoted). That isn’t a small hard core of activists working all day, important though they were, but it was also about lots of people dipping in to help a campaign for a fairly brief period of an hour or so, even on as important a day as polling day. Building a large pool of casual helpers to compliment the small care of die hard activists was key.

All in all, this illustrates how easy it is to over-egg the importance of a good ground game compared with the big picture issues of candidate, economy and so on.

For more on how the ground campaign works in US politics, see Ground Wars and of course for more on how to apply this to your own campaign, see 101 Ways To Win An Election.



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