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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.

By Washington Post editors  |  September 24, 2007; 4:45 PM ET
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The 2-headed 4-flatfooted Billary monster's media/pollster machine is going all out to dismiss Obama by assaulting us with the "inevitability" of Ankleless Annie waddling into the White House. Not a word about the furniture. Hsu loves ya, baby? "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!"

Posted by: sawargos | September 26, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Let's be clear on polling: Even a big poll sample is only going to be 1000 voters or so. So it's not surprising that many of you have never been polled.

Is it subject to error? Yes, but statistically, polls work. Trust me, EVERY candidate uses polls. Part of where the money goes is to have the candidates individually conduct their own polls. They all target groups they think will vote for them. This is how it works, people.

Living in Iowa, we get lots of candidates ads on TV. Mitt Romney has spent a fortune on direct mail.

As someone who has managed a lot of small, local campaigns, here's what Obama is up against: The sense that Hillary has it locked up.

How do you overcome that?

Part of the challenge is that the democratic candidates have pledged not to beat each other up. It just gets shot back at them by the republicans in the general election.

Obama reminds me so much of Jack Kennedy it's scary. What he lacks is Joe Kennedy pulling the strings behind him.

If I was Obama's campaign manager, I'd beat the drum with the following beats:

1) It's about change. No time in the history of the republic is it more important to get it right than now. (This puts Hillary in the other camp.. that she's old news).

2) Go Green. America invented the ecology movement. Under the Bush administration, it's gone to the back of the pack. When Obama is elected President, he'll declare war on global warming. He'll challenge the auto makers to make flex vehicles, to get to 100 mpg, to find new ways to manufacturer with less hydro-carbons, essentially turn the Space Race of the 60s into the Greening of America. Wind Power and alternative forms of energy will be give a top priority. "Give us 8 years to transform the economy and take the lead back." Just like the innovations of the space race drove the economy in the 60s, the Green race should be his.

3) Health Care This is Hillary's weak spot. Why? If you look at her campaign contributions, she's taking a lot of money from people in the health care industry.

Again, if you're going to run on change, you'll need to really change. One thing Mike Hucklebee is right about ( I believe this is his position) is that people need to be encouraged to do more to prevent health problems. ANY health care plan needs to incoroporate this. Might piss off junk food producers and fast food types, but they could produce good food instead. Dangerous, but in my opinion, worth the risk. And it ties together nicely with your green position.

4) The War. The moron in the White House really screwed the pooch on this one. We're in a no win, BUT there's a way to do this. If you just pull out, you're going to make the middle east even worse if that's possible. Lots of behind the scene stuff that makes this complicated.

You'll never get the three groups to work together. Sadam was brutual because he recognized fear was the only thing that worked. A strong federal system won't work. You need a weak federal system over there and three states. You make sure all three states share in the oil revenues. This will take some hard work and it will take a regional effort. But the Saudis don't want any more extremists, and they certainly don't want the Iranian madmen taking total control.

So, you leverage the players. Most Americans recognize Bush got us into something nasty. They also recognize that pulling out will make a very bad situation even worse. That's why Obama's harping on the fact he got it right and Hillary didn't doesn't play. Bush lied. She was doing what she thought was right. When Obama tries to paint her into a corner, it doesn't play. Better to talk change by talking about you will do.

I'd give the media types one tibbit - I'd promise that after I take over, I'd get people with track records of success to work on moving Iraq forward. I'd even consider using former Presidents...

Obama has to play offense. He isn't. If he is going to have any chance of beating Hillary in Iowa.. he needs to show that he has the right stuff. Like Jack Kennedy, he needs to show people that there is hope, that it isn't too late, and that if you vote for him, he will make the beacon of what is America shine brightly again. Make people proud to be Americans - remind them that this is a nation of "can-do", and challenge Americans to do great things. All they have to do is vote for Obama.

Posted by: thebigfish | September 26, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

A friend and I attended a large Obama fundraiser in NYC. We were about 25 years older than most of the attendees but we were as enthusiastic as anyone there.

Now I am a little less enthusiastic. Has anyone told Michelle (who was very impressive that night) to put a sock in it? She, who could be one of his greatest assets (her speech was better than his that night) seems to be deflecting positive attention away from him and his impressive credentials in her attempt to make him seem more like a regular guy.

Posted by: lauralocklin | September 26, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I am for Barack Obama.Nobody has polled me or any of my numerous friends . Well ,its time to also say Hillary's poll numbers don't translate to campaign funds .Your money is where your heart is ,which is why Barack has consistently out raised her in all the fundraisers.The polls will vote for Hillary but genuine citizens of this great country of hope and unity will vote for Barack .It's going to be a similar phenomenon to Barack raising more money than the Clinton machine put together.Everybody knows the polls are cooked and doctored so serious people don't take the polls seriously.Wait until election .Its going to be a fight between real voters and poll numbers.

Posted by: Mypostcopkiller | September 26, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Ditto rlfast, only I sent 100 dollars. Especially after reading about GW vetoing the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

When will we wake up as a country? We are so distracted by pop culture, that our own true culture is going down the tubes. Obama is a man for this horrible time - and here's a challenge to you Boomers out there; we wanted to change to world and thought we could back in the 60's. Here is our chance to actually do it! Be politically active again - DO something instead of just complaining!

I want to add here that both of my children, 22 and 25, have also contributed to Obama's campaign and will go out and vote for him with enthusiasm if he is the candidate in 2008!

Posted by: sheridan1 | September 25, 2007 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I sent $25 to Obama today. I'll try to do more, but several of us are helping each other buy needed medicine. When I came back to this country after 25 years, I was sure that we would never do it again. But then we did, we invaded another country for no reason. How can we possibly choose a candidate who got it wrong? Obama saw it, Gore saw it, a lot of Senators saw it. I saw it. How can we choose a candidate who got it wrong? Young Obama supporters should fight like hell, and get everyone registered and out to the polls. There are only a few hundred votes at every polling place, if you can add three votes at each one we will win.

Posted by: rlfast | September 25, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I myself was wondering the same thing about the polls. I and many of my friends are Obama supporters and one one has ever called us for a poll. I beleive also that the media is trying to dismiss Obama as ingignificant. But my word to all the Obama supporters all across the country- don't lose hope; believe in yourself; we can do it. Barack Obama will be the 44th POTUS. See you all again on polling day and let us prove the critics and doubters WRONG. Obama all the way in 08!

Posted by: daleys64 | September 25, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

The key to winning is not having a good showing in early national polls. It's doing right what the Dean campaign did wrong: Organizing.

The Obama campaign knows where their votes are coming from because serious supporters in Iowa (and Nevada, the other early caucus state) sign pledge cards promising to caucus for Barack. Once voters make that promise, the campaign stays in touch with them and makes damn sure they get to the caucus on the right day.

The campaign doesn't need polls - they're tracking and organizing their own support through proven methods that are actually characteristic of successful labor organizing and local grassroots campaigns.

An audacious strategy, but here's the key: They have the enthusiastic volunteer base they need to get this work done.

This is what people mean when they say "Iowa will be won on the ground." It's happening now.

Posted by: renatarollins | September 25, 2007 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Hey all, go read the article,

"Anti-Hillary Facebook site tops Obama"


Pretty interesting. Good thing media and pundits aren't the only voters in this election.

Posted by: julieds | September 25, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I agree with David Plouffe's argument that the strength of Obama's many younger, enthusiastic supporters may not be adequately reflected in the polling. However, I feel that the Obama campaign would be foolish to count on that. I also agree with the poster who said that many have been disappointed in the very conventional nature of the Obama campaign. The campaign obviously is obsessed with fund-raising and developing a network of volunteers, however, it also needs to find imaginative ways to introduce Sen. Obama and his ideas to the country as a whole. Once the senator and his proposals become better known nationally, he will begin to move up in the national polls and this, in turn, will be reflected in the polling in Iowa and the other "early states."

Posted by: cpaustin408 | September 25, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree on the polling thing. Everyone I know is for Obama, yet not one person I know has been polled. I am beginning to wonder who actually get polled

Posted by: ebinum | September 25, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I think that if Al Gore got into the race, even at this late date, he could win it all.

Posted by: Anndougherty | September 25, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I ask " Who are they polling?" because l have never been polled and l am for Barack Obama.

Sometimes l feel that the polls are staged by insiders and who the media wants us to vote for but l am no fool. l know what they are trying to do.

One thing l am certain of is, if Hilary gets the nomination for the democratic party, then l will vote for a republican (Rudy Giuliani) than have Hilary in the oval office. she is a lair, a calculating politician and a copy-cat who have no experience what so ever and could not even handle health properly when she was the first lady and also she voted for war. Give me a good reason why l should vote for her?

My vote is for Barack Obama and l and my friends also will come out to vote for him on that day whether we are polled or not.

Posted by: nkgilb | September 25, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Femalenick - thanks for the update, but those of us under 30 know full well we need to register to vote. We also know that we've been handed a pile of sh_t that we'll need to spend the rest of our lives cleaning up. We're the ones in this for the long haul, so excuse us if we're excited by a candidate who isn't a self-absorbed Baby Boomer and might actually shake up the United States of Apathy.
Everything Senator Obama's campaign says is true - I have never had a land line, have never been polled by anyone, and show up to vote, volunteer, and talk to anyone who will listen about my choice of candidate.
Howard Dean, god bless him, was absolutely taken advantage of by media looking for a laugh; not to mention, he didn't have quite the political persona that Senator Obama possesses.
Perhaps the status quo is fine for some, but the rest of us aren't planning on dying anytime soon, so why don't you just sit down, shut up, and let someone else take a turn. You've done enough as it is.

Posted by: squintz | September 25, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Youth excitement or not...speaking of Howard Dean, he could have continued on past Iowa had he not screamed. The media made just a deal out of his reaction in Iowa he didn't have a chance.

I just can't picture Obama making the same sort of screaming mistake. I also feel, with the change up in Primaries across this country, Iowa will be important, but it can't be win or pull out. You'll see the top two continue strong at least through February.

Posted by: nd.sullivan | September 25, 2007 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Obama's camp is spilling out a huge amount of meta-spin lately about the state of the race. Something voters don't care about, and something campaigns that are actually doing well don't need to do.

Posted by: sfmandrew | September 25, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Have you forgotten that Howard Dean also had a slew of young supporters who came into Iowa in droves yet he still lost? The same cell phone and email argument was also used in those days. Young adults are easily excitable, but when it comes time to deliver -- well, there's another reason why they can't make it to the polls. Oh - I had to register to vote?

Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and then the first female president of the United States.

Posted by: femalenick | September 25, 2007 3:06 AM | Report abuse

there is a game going on,

called hide the dishonesty.... if the NSA had any balls, they would be a little less partisan, and a little less greedy

about destroying other countries economies or letting the United States get taken over by INTERNATIONALISTS INTERESTS...

wiretapping is being used, not to monitor but to increase the probability that the bush family interests get served...

if this were 1952

these guys would be shot for treason.


there is no "war," in IRAQ...


the rich, corrupt and elitist interests of bushCO and CRONYs, STEAL MONEY FROM THE COFFERS OF THE UNITED STATES...

as our infrastructure crashes and burns, our manufacturing is gone and our blue collar MIDDLE CLASS JOBS, WHITE COLLAR COMPUTER JOBS, CUSTOMER SERVICE JOBS, get sent overseas so that corporate bottom liners can make a


so now, with AMERICANS OUT OF WORK or working at retail or jobs that pay them 15% of what they used to make...

the elitists start selling off AMERICAN PROPERTIEs, Corporations, mines, farms, etc.... to make that money...

BLACKWATER COMPANY IS AN EXAMPLE OF A MONEY PIT.... put the money in, what do you get....advertising for "war," an attempt to get you to spend U.S. TAX DOLLARS ON SOMETHING THAT GENERATES NO THING...

war for war's sake doesn't generate a better world.... since it is UNNECESSARY it depletes the economy....since it is a lie, it creates despair over there and in the United States....


if we _needed_ to kill people we could nuclear flash the middle east and move in...this is about getting the government to spend money.

we don't need to be herded by fabricated "war" stories, niether do we need to havea false flag attack in_country, or attack or instigate conflict w/IRAQ

because Boy George, wants to keep troops in IRAQ for 30 YEARS so he gets a payoff from the oil....and AMERICAN TAXPAYERS PAY FOR HIS BANKROLLING...

can you say collusion with SANDBROs against the United States best interests?

bring the whole team in and take over the whitehouse

Hillary, Obama, Edwards, Gore, Dennis K., Joe Biden....

make AMERICA right again, in a good way.


Posted by: afraidofme | September 25, 2007 12:28 AM | Report abuse

For David Plouffe. Are you aware of how many
people who were deeply excited by the audacious hopes of this candidacy have been disappointed by its utterly conventional campaign?? The expectations you raised and basically failed to meet will prove your undoing, and haunt the future.

Posted by: gormannrpe | September 24, 2007 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I think that Obama's campiagn KNOWS they need Iowa and have the organization to capitalize on the support he does have and maybe peel off support from others.

People in Iowa haven't made up their minds and he's just started really adveritising: same in New Hampshire. Obama just went on the air there too and before that was second in the polls.

If he's not made any headway by November then I think he ought to worry. But right now is the time to shut out the talking heads and go work on touching voters and moving them to the polls come the New Year.

He's got the money to do it and he's still got the time. He doesn't need a mistake on Hillary's part: he needs to sell himself.

Posted by: Rhoda | September 24, 2007 9:09 PM | Report abuse

My take on the current media campaign coverage and the established polling process (especially regarding Senator Obama) looks like nothing so much as a conspiracy of the lame, blatantly pandering to the lowest - i.e., the loudest - "constituencies" among us.

Senator Obama not only has my support but also the support of LOTS of my friends and, while NONE of us has been polled, we WILL show up at the polling place (just rest assured).

Posted by: miraclestudies | September 24, 2007 5:56 PM | Report abuse

...Now, if there was only a way to quantify the enthusiasm out there for Barack Obama and reflect it in the polls. We`d be walking away with it.

Posted by: eSPO1 | September 24, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

The American Voter has lost the respect of the candidates. It's all about the polls, the demographics and of Do we see this? Yes. This is the primary reason why many voters become non-voters and many prospective voters do not vote. Enthusiasm? This died some time ago.

Posted by: lindafranke1952 | September 24, 2007 5:35 PM | Report abuse

It is surprising to discover that the national polls have not developed a methodology to count people who use cell phones and email exclusively or, for that matter, caller ID to screen calls on land lines. I just assumed that the national polls had either adapted their polling techniques to 21st century communication technology or adapted the margin of error to account for that missing portion of the population.

Posted by: dpack | September 24, 2007 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Ok, if we give Plouffe's claims a little credibility, shouldn't we then also ask how much weight young people will have in the caucuses? I don't know a whole lot about the caucuses, but don't they essentially amount to a bunch of people meeting & trying to convince each other who they should support? Are young people going to be able to convince others of their case, or are they more susceptible to changing their opinion in the face of more experienced caucus-goers? Or am I totally off-base on how caucuses work?

Posted by: bsimon | September 24, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Could be another, "Dewey Wins" election. Mobile young actives don't get polled. The guy's got a point there. I hope he's right. It's the 20-30 somethings that are going to have to fix the mess that this ex-cokehead, dry drunk got us into.

Posted by: thebobbob | September 24, 2007 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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