Obama’s campaign strategy in the 2012 American election is based mainly on getting people to vote, not on persuading them that he is better than his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
That is why the Obama people make such a big deal about early voting – and why Republicans try to find ways to stop people from voting, like voter ID laws or putting up frightening billboards about voter fraud.
Why voter turnout:
- Most Americans favour Democratic positions. That has been true since at least the 1980s. Yet the Republicans keep winning. Why? Voter turnout: more Republicans vote!
- Television ads have been losing their effect since at least 1996. They do not shift opinion as much as they used to. Because the country is becoming politically polarized: there are fewer people in the middle who can go either way.
- It plays to Obama’s strengths as a community organizer. And to how top people in his campaign see the civil rights movement as a model of how to do politics.
In 2008 Obama did so well because turnout was high - the highest in 40 years. That allowed him to win not only all the states Gore won in 2000, but all nine swing states – and Indiana too.
His pollsters expect the same in 2012, though to a lesser degree: they say they will get about half the swing states this time, which is more than enough to win. (The Gore states with either Florida or Ohio are enough.)
Obama’s re-election campaign began in December 2008 – before he was even president. The first thing they did was to spend a few months studying the 2008 campaign, looking at what worked and what did not.
What worked best, it turned out, was going door to door and talking to people about how important it is to vote. Not email, not junk mail, not flyers, not posters, not scripted telephone calls. Not even the issues or the man. Just getting people to vote.
What worked best of all was pointing out that it is a matter of public record whether or not you vote. Simple shame, it turned out, worked better than the issues.
Not to say that Obama does not run television ads. He does. But he ran most of them back when he still had a chance to shape Romney’s image. He runs them now in swing states, in the last weeks of the campaign, mainly to make up for his terrible performance at the first debate.
The Obama people are not trying to turn out all voters, just those in swing states and just those who have favoured him in the past: blacks, Latinos, young whites and whites with good educations. Judging from his ads he is also trying to turn out women.
A good example are Latinos in Nevada. Even though they have been hit hard by the Great Recession, much harder than most Americans, if he can get enough of them to vote, he will win the state.