Obama's 'Enthusiasm Gap'
In a memo the campaign put out over the weekend, Barack Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe generally argued that national polls didn't matter, because the campaign is facing a "quasi-incumbent" (Hillary Clinton), and polls in most of the early states don't show the state of the race because Obama hasn't devoted much of his personal time or ads to places outside of Iowa.
But in Iowa, where Obama aides concede polling does matter, they're making an interesting argument: the polls aren't right. In the memo to supporters, Plouffe wrote:
On a related point, polls consistently under-represent in Iowa, and elsewhere, the strength of Barack's support among younger voters for at least three reasons. In more than one survey, Barack's support among Iowa young voters exceeded the support of all the other candidates combined. First, young voters are dramatically less likely to have caucused or voted regularly in primaries in the past, so pollsters heavily under-represent them. Second, young voters are more mobile and are much less likely to be at home in the early evening and thus less likely to be interviewed in any survey. Third, young voters are much less likely to have a landline phone and much more likely to rely exclusively upon cell phones, which are automatically excluded from phone surveys. So all of these state and national surveys have and will continue to under-represent Barack's core support -- in effect, his hidden vote in each of these pivotal early states. Of course, there are organizational challenges associated with maximizing this support, but we are heavily focused on that task.
Relying on the youth vote would be risky for Obama: in 2004, 64 percent of the people who participated in the Democratic presidential caucuses were 50 or older. Back then, before Iowa voted, Howard Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, made a very similar argument about polls not counting new voters Dean was bringing into the process. Dean finished in third place in Iowa, suggesting either he didn't turn out new people or they didn't chose to vote for him. In an interview, Plouffe said he didn't want to overstate the importance of the youth vote, but thought it could tip a close race to Obama.
"This cohort is really motivated by Senator Obama," Plouffe said of younger voters. "It is something that could give us a little bit extra. We've just looking to maximize it. We're not counting on voters under 30 to over deliver, but they could be very important in this election."
And Plouffe said that the young voters, as well as other Obama supporters, are different than the backers of other candidates: the campaign's huge number of donors suggests the enthusiasm level for Obama is higher than for others. In the memo, Plouffe described the large crowd of supporters that attended a "steak fry" put on by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin that the candidates all attended illustrated the energy of Obama's backers.
"Our dominating presence at the Steak Fry is an example of the enthusiasm gap that we enjoy over our fellow candidates," Plouffe wrote. "Our supporters will drive for hours and walk for miles to help elect Barack to the White House. "Organization plus Enthusiasm" is a time-tested formula for success in the caucuses and that is the path we are on."
"One thing we have is a lot of enthusiasm," Plouffe said in an interview. "The people who are for us really put in the time."
Plouffe though, is aware of the limits of enthusiasm. His memo was titled: "Enthusiasm and Organization: A Path to the Nomination" and detailed a massive field operation Obama's campaign thinks will help it win Iowa.
More than ever, Iowa looks like the place where the Democratic nomination may be won or lost. If Obama doesn't win Iowa, even Plouffe's own words suggests that could be a major problem.
"It is also clear that the importance of Iowa has only grown over the course of this year," Plouffe wrote. "The Democratic story coming out of Iowa is likely to be a much bigger story than the GOP contest, ensuring maximum velocity for a strong showing. . ... The average New Hampshire bounce on the Democratic side has historically been just under 20 points."
Of course, Plouffe thinks someone else will suffer from Iowa. "Clinton will pay a severe price for not winning Iowa--national front runners always do. "
--Perry Bacon Jr.
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