After posting the 19 Things We Learned from the 2016 Election, I received a bunch of helpful feedback in comments and email. Here are some of the key points that I missed or presented unclearly:
Nadia Hassan points out that my article is “so focused on the Presidential race than it misses some key pertinent downballot stuff. Straight ticket voting soared in this election in the Senate races, though not the governor’s races,” which supports explanations based on fundamentals and polarization rather than candidate-specific stories.
The Latino vote
In the “Demography is not destiny” category, I cited exit polls that showed the Latino vote dividing 66%-28% in favor of Clinton. But exit polls have a lot of problems, as Justin Gross noted in comments and which others pointed out to me by email. Gary Segura and Matt Barreto suggest that “the national exit polls interviewed few if any Latino voters in areas where many Latinos actually live.” Trump winning based on the white vote is consistent with what Yair and I found earlier this year about the electorate being whiter than observers had thought based on exit polls, as reported in a news article, “There Are More White Voters Than People Think. That’s Good News for Trump.”
Andy Guess writes, conventional wisdom says news is “siloed.” But the best evidence (from passive metering data) doesn’t support the idea, and on social media, see this. We have more discussion of fake news in comments here.
I ragged on Chris Achen and Larry Bartels’s claim that shark attacks swing elections. But as commenter WB points out, we shouldn’t let that distract us from Achen and Bartels’s larger point that that many voters are massively uninformed about politics, policy, and governing, which is relevant even if it’s not true, as they claimed, that voters are easily swung by irrelevant stimuli.
The Clinton campaign’s “ground game”
Someone who had led Obama’s ground game in a rural area of a midwestern state sent me this note:
I [my correspondent] returned there to informally assist Senator Clinton after it became apparent that she was having difficulty in that state (September 2016). It is from this background that I respectfully think you’re wrong about ground games being overrated (point 10). That is the wrong lesson.
You are correct that Democrats were supposed to have an amazing ground game. More hires. More offices. A field guy as campaign manager experienced in tight field wins (DCCC 2012; McAuliffe 2013). The problem is that Clinton never ran a ground game.
When I arrived in September/October, I was astounded to discover that the field staff had spent all their time on volunteer recruitment. This meant that they were only calling people who were already friendly to Clinton and asking those same people to come into the office to call more people friendly to Clinton. At no point during the campaign did the field staff ever ID voters or do persuasion (e.g. talk to a potentially non-friendly voter). That is a call center, it is not a ground game.
Part of the reason for this is that Brooklyn read an academic piece suggesting that voter contact more than 10 days out is worthless—a direct repudiation of the organizing model used by Obama in 2008 and 2012 when field contacted each voter 4 times between July and November. The result is that the Clinton campaign started asking people to turn out for Clinton only in the final week of the election when they began GOTV work. There was no preexisting relationship. Those calls for turning out might as well have come from a Hyderabad call center for all the good they did.
I hate to see people taking the wrong lesson from this campaign. Ground games are critical for Democrats to win. But non organizing-based ground games are worse than useless as they artificially inflate your expectations, demoralize volunteers (they want to talk to voters, not recruit more volunteers), and fail to turn out your base.
P.S. One more thing on the ground game: Ryan Enos and Anthony Fowler estimated that the ground campaigning in 2012 increased turnout in the most targeted states by 7-8 percentage points.