A Different Take On Voter Turnout

Let’s assume the polls are right…Obama is up but McCain is closing fast.

Let’s assume the polls are right…Obama is up but McCain is closing fast. Do their voter turnout efforts really matter then? Of course they do, but maybe not in the way you think.


It’s a pretty safe assumption that voters are going to the polls in record numbers this year, despite each campaign’s voter turnout effort. This can be attributed in part to Obama’s candidacy, a “change election”, Governor Palin’s addition to the Republican ticket, and record media spending by both candidates.


McCain and Obama campaign operatives assume that an organized voter turnout will produce a massive bump on Election Day and push their respective candidate to victory. But I believe that’s a false assumption, even if these operatives and the media generate stories otherwise.


It’s important to remember that voter turnout doesn’t get you a 5-point boost on Election Day; it gets you a maximum of 1-2 points – usually less. And both campaigns have organized efforts afoot (great turnout pun don’t ya think?).


A political campaign is like a football game where your team is trying to move the ball down the field for a touchdown to win or tie the game. Voter turnout is like kicking a successful extra point. Very important to the game but sometimes not necessary to win.


Obama has built an enthusiastic ground game that was tested in the primary and has grown exponentially in the general election. But his team has only been organized for one election cycle. McCain on the other hand built his effort with less enthusiasm (defined by his lack of volunteers in the primary). After the primary, the McCain campaign and the RNC brought in many of the voter turnout veterans from the past eight years. These guys know what they are doing and are the best in the business.So my guess is that each campaign’s “get-out-the-vote” efforts will offset each other (*Let me be real clear on this; A record number of voters will vote in this presidential election regardless of campaign get-out-the-vote efforts. I am only predicting what a campaign’s voter turnout efforts will yield in addition to that record turnout), which leads to my original question: Do McCain or Obama’s voter turnout efforts really matter?

Yes and here’s why...


While I feel their turnout efforts will offset each other on Election Day, what matters more is what these campaigns do with their organization after November 4th. Building a sustainable grassroots arm for each political party is going to be the true contribution of this year’s campaign.


And if the winner of the presidential election is committed to building up their grassroots party’s efforts, they will have a greater advantage in future elections.


The best example of post-election grassroots organizing came after the 2000 presidential election, where Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman systematically grew President Bush and the Republican Party’s base of support. They spent millions of dollars on innovation, research, staff, and volunteer recruitment (and they used the “Moneyball” system for staff accountability). The result of that work yielded three election cycles (2002, 2003, 2004) of massive Republican successes.


Election Day is upon us and volunteers from both presidential campaigns are heading to your neighborhood en masse – begging you and your family to vote. But will they be there two years from now with the same enthusiasm? To me, that’s what really matters and the true legacy of these campaigns.

Phillip Stutts is president of Phillip Stutts and Company. In 2004 Stutts served as the National 72 Hour/Get-Out-The-Vote Director for the Republican National Committee and President Bush’s reelection.

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