It increasingly looks as though this close election may be determined by investments on the ground, in local precincts across the country, an area of the campaign that Barack Obama's organization and supporters have excelled at.
But this is not the type of edge pollsters pick up on, making any metrics concerning the ground game that much more valuable. Most of the data we have seen up to now has looked at shifts in voter’s party affiliations. That tells us how many more (or less) voters are registered as Democrats or Republicans, but not much about new voters, as much of these partisan shifts are due to already-registered voters changing their affiliation. These new voters are one of the key weapons of the Obama campaign, and one of the reasons he won the Democratic nomination (for instance, his influx of new voters overwhelmed Clinton and Edwards’s caucus organization on January 3rd).
Now, Time provides us this very useful table of voters who have newly registered from January to July 2008, and the numbers are very encouraging for the Obama campaign. More than 3 million voters registered in that period, and while a lot of them are not Democrats, Time’s table shows that these new voters are registering as Democrats at much higher than normal proportion; also, a disproportionate number of new registrants are under 35, Obama’s strongest demographic group.
The most impressive numbers come from Florida (441,225 new voters, 45% of which are Democrats and half of which are under 35), Michigan (where 63% of the 411,207 new voters are under 35), North Carolina (429,059 new voters, 49% of which are Democrats and 55% of which are under 35) and Pennsylvania (where an outstanding 67% of the 286,255 new voters are Democrats and 69% are under 35). Remarkable numbers as well out of Nevada (where 110,124 new voters is a lot considering the state’s size, especially as 53% of them are new voters) and Ohio (65% of the 255,587 new voters are under 35).
In some of these states, a lot of work was done during the primary season. In others, these gains are due to Obama’s general election effort. And Democrats should feel even better that these numbers only cover the period ending in July. The campaign is sure to continue voter registration until the deadlines start coming up in late September/early October. In other words, the final numbers are likely to be much higher than they are now.
Of course, registering new voters is only the first step -- getting them to the polls requires a whole other round of effort. As the New York Times reported today, this is where early voting comes in -- and we will have to keep track of any data from that department once the first states open their ballots at the end of this month.
One obstacle to all of this will come in the form of legal challenges. A month ago, the GOP signaled it was sending teams of lawyers to key battleground states to review voter registration applications and issue challenges. Now, Florida election authorities are saying they will start enforcing a voter ID law that was on hold pending legal review for the past year. This law (read the details here) could lead to a lot of new voters being forced to cast provisional ballots on Election Day; they would have two days to prove their identity. If the election comes down to a small margin in FL, expect a huge legal battle. (In other news from Florida, the Obama campaign seems to be aware of its relative weakness among the Jewish community and is organizing very extensive outreach among the community.)
Meanwhile, McCain supporters are also increasing their ground game. Today marked the NRA’s first move in the presidential race, and they made sure to make a splash by producing a brochure that warns that Obama would be “the most anti-gun president in American history.”
The brochure contains a lot of text and tells voters not to believe Barack Obama - contrasting what he says and what he does: “He has supported bans on handguns and semi-automatic firearms, and he has voted to ban possession of many shotguns and rifles commonly used by hunters and sportsmen across America. And we will remind voters every single time he lies.”
They will print 6 million brochures, and it will reach at least 4 million NRA member. Of course, this is not a surprise - the NRA targeted John Kerry four years ago - but it is a reminder that this is one more obstacle Obama has to overcome to address his weakness among culturally conservative white voters, whether Reagan Democrats or independents (remember that today’s CNN poll found Obama trailing by 18% in the Detroit suburbs).
Read more at Daniel Nichanian's blog, Campaign Diaries.