4 Nov 2012

Election ground war: bayonets vs drones

If there is any whisper of romance left in presidential elections, this is the time to suspend it.

The 2012 race comes down to a haulage story. Which campaign can haul the greater number of likely voters to the polls and make sure they pull that lever, tick that box or click that mouse.

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This is true for every recent presidential election. But 2012 has broken new records on the haulage front just as it has on the money front.

The Democrats have their “souls to the polls” operation beefed up to military levels. All over Ohio, where Republicans tried and failed to stop early voting this Sunday, churchgoers hear the campaign message from the pulpit and then head straight to buses waiting outside to be herded to the ballot boxes.

The fear, especially with low income African-American voters, is that they may be too busy at work on Tuesday, election day; cannot find child care or don’t have transport. The “souls to the polls” campaign in 2008 partly explained the fact that the black turn-out matched the enthusiasm for Barack Obama.

If the 2008 ground operation was impressive this one is the next chapter, like an upgrade from an iPad 1 to an iPad 3. In Colorado 85 per cent of registered voters have already cast their ballot.

The emphasis on early voting is unprecedented and reflects the campaign’s fear that things can change on a dime and that it’s vital to bank as many ballots as possible.

The Obama campaign boasts that the number of pledged volunteers in the battleground states alone is 720,000, that they have registered double the number of voters in the battleground states as last time – 1.8 million – and, most astonishingly, that they have contacted in person or by phone 125 million Americans, which is, if true, about the same as the total number of voters.

Please hand me large pinches of salt.

The Romney campaign has made its own claims, which pale next to the other side’s but are very impressive compared to their ground war for Sarah Palin and John McCain.

Fifty-million voters contacted.

Ten times as many in states like Ohio, where the 2008 campaign had run out of money and into ground long before election day.

The Romney operation has also mobilised an army of volunteers -we have not been told the exact number. It is relying as much on door-knocking and phone calls or emails, convinced that eyeballing voters will be more effective than doing it over a line.

Comparing the two ground operations is a bit like watching two generations grappling with technology. With their soya lattes, iPhones and youth, the Obama crowd would be at home in Silicon Valley. The Romney volunteers tend to be older, more cellphone than iCloud, at home in a Rotary Club but no less determined.

Whichever transport, telecom and haulage operation drags more people to the polls in Cayahoga county Ohio or Waukesha County Wisconsin gets its man elected to the White House.

It has all the appeal of a Soviet military campaign without any of the mass casualties. But since we are on military analogies I suspect that the Romney campaign has been using more bayonets and horses than unmanned drones and cyber attacks.

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