Warren Advantage at Ground Game

We’re fixated with debates that aren’t “game changers,” TV ads that are forgotten tomorrow, and “gaffes” that don’t move poll numbers. Political organization isn’t as sexy but it’s very important, and Democrat Elizabeth Warren seems to have an advantage over Republican Scott Brown.

The topic has gotten traction in the partisan blogosphere with a chortling post at Bluemassgroup.com titled Where’s Scott’s Organization? Sign of Weakness Should Encourage the Rogue Supporters. The poster submitted that he could see little evidence of organization from the incumbent’s campaign, including even an inability to get sign-holders outside of the Monday debate. A worried Redmassgroup.com partisan posted How do we respond to this post on BMG? The poster felt some relief that he had recently seen more Brown signs about but was concerned he is seeing “no overcrowded local headquaters (sic).”

There may be reason for concern among Brown supporters. A look at the listing of party offices at MassDems.org on October 3 showed forty-three offices spread out around the state from Pittsfield to the Cape to the North Shore and everything in between. A recent article in The New Yorker says that Warren supporters have knocked on over 400,000 doors. At the state Republican Party we find nine Victory Field Offices plus Victory HQ in Boston, spread across nine regions. There is one office west of Worcester, in East Longmeadow.

I’ve had this in mind since reading a post at MischiefsofFaction titled The asymmetric ground game by political scientist Seth Masket.  He was pointing out that his review of field offices in key battleground states shows a decided advantage for President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. That is interesting because Prof. Masket had previously published research that showed Obama’s ground game gave him a decided advantage over Senator Jon McCain in 2008. From the article abstract: “The findings show that those counties in which the Obama campaign had established field offices during the general election saw a disproportionate increase in the Democratic vote share. Furthermore, this field office induced vote increase was large enough to flip three battleground states from Republican to Democratic.”

 This isn’t surprising. The research of political scientists Donald Green and Alan Gerber published in their 2004 book Get Out the Vote!: A Guide for Candidates and Campaigns showed that door-to-door campaigning is the most effective campaign technique to mobilize voters.  Green and Gerber also find a lot of traditional campaign efforts, like a bumper stickers, mass mail, and sorry Brown boosters, yard signs, to be ineffective. It is the personal touch of door-to-door and (in certain circumstances) phones that has a measurable impact.

 Prof. Masket offers a couple of notions that ameliorate what seems like a distinct GOP disadvantage. Perhaps the Romney (and Brown) campaigns feel their best chance is winning with the air game. Or perhaps Obama (and Warren) favor the ground game because it helps mitigate the customary lower turnout among Democrats.

 My estimation though is that Warren and the Massachusetts Democrats have built themselves a distinct advantage.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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