Obama trumps McCain in people power, but to what gain?
His Nevada field organization outmans his rival’s. McCain, though, is making use of the GOP’s high-tech, well-tuned machine.
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“To the extent that these campaigns have paid a lot of money to augment the voter file with all kinds of extraneous info, that’s foolish,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
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He does see the value in online efforts to rope in new volunteers through social-networking tools. Obama’s website is more exhaustive in that sense.
If the McCain campaign had a database advantage, it wasn’t on display on a recent weekend in Las Vegas. Six out of nearly 40 doors knocked on one McCain canvass turned out to be wrong, while an Obama canvasser just encountered one vacant home.
Nevada’s population moves a lot and votes little, making it hard to keep data fresh. Yet, the more lead time a campaign has, the more accurate data they will have in the weeks before an election, notes Mr. Quinn. “That’s one of the advantages to being on the ground early,” says Quinn, who has seen the Democrats open offices earlier in states like Colorado. “It’s little edges that can add up to a lot.”
The list of names and addresses given to McCain canvassers, though machine-readable, wasn’t terribly human-friendly. Addresses weren’t numerically ordered and volunteers spent lots of crucial time flipping through paperwork.
Shoe leather has its advantages
While even the best canvassing operation is time consuming and inefficient, it happens to be the best method for boosting a candidate’s vote totals. Research has found door-to-door contact to be the most effective, followed by well-trained phone callers, says Mr. Gimpel. Direct mail is a poor option, he adds, and robo-calls “have a perfect record of failure.”
“The older methods are the best. Those old dudes from the ’50s and ’60s that just went door to door, they were on to something,” says Gimpel. “The fact that we got away from those older contacting techniques may well have been responsible for the decline in turnout we experienced in the last 30 or 40 years.”
Interviews with Obama volunteers revealed diversity – local students, a rural Nevadan, minorities, Spanish-speakers, as well as a contingent of Californians. The presence of out-of-state help was a detail the Obama campaign went to some lengths to mask. A campaign press official – who himself initially refused to divulge he was from California – cornered Mr. James before an interview in an effort to get him to play down his origins.
But no one who answered his knocks in Las Vegas seemed bothered by James’s California-ness. He got into an extended conversation with one voter, Leon Lyons, who had been leaning toward Obama until recently. Mr. Lyons had concerns on a number of issues that James then addressed. Another campaign worker offered to swing by later with a packet detailing Obama’s healthcare plan.
“I was very impressed,” says Lyons. “If I get the information and it’s actually sound, and not what I’ve been [hearing], I’ll definitely vote for him.”