US election: It's the grassroots, stupid
Think back to the week before the American election. According to Gallup, Republican Mitt Romney held a five percentage point lead over President Obama. Romney also had twice the amount of money to spend during the final week of the campaign, and was supported by an endless array of conservative interest groups and Republican super-PACs. And yet, Barack Obama remains President of the United States. Much of his reelection success can be owed to one of the finest field operations, and grassroots volunteering, in the history of campaigns.
The importance of two crucial demographics cannot be overstated in Obama’s victory; women and Latinos. Mitt Romney’s pro-life views on abortion, his dithering in support of equal pay, Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s infamous ‘legitimate rape’ comment and Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s rape is ‘something intended by God’ comment demonstrate how disillusioned many women feel with the Republican Party. They voted for Obama by a margin of twelve percentage points.
Similarly, the growing Latino community voted overwhelmingly for the President. Mitt Romney won only twenty-seven percent of the Latino vote, compared to the forty-four percent achieved by George W. Bush in 2004. The increasingly radical immigration rhetoric of the Republican Party has alienated the Latino community and was essential in securing Democratic victories in former Republican states such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
However the Democrats must in part, owe their victory to their highly strategic and perfectly executed field operations in the swing states and their endless army of volunteers. While the Republicans could spend seemingly endless sums of money, they were out manoeuvred at every corner on the ground. In every battleground state, the Democrats outnumbered the Republicans by a minimum two-to-one margin in field offices. In the kingpin state of Ohio, the Republicans had an impressive forty field offices. However, they were dwarfed by the Democrats one hundred and thirty one. The Washington Post has pointed towards a clear link throughout the United States between the location of these headquarters and a higher than normal turnout among the groups that pushed Barack Obama to victory.
From early in the summer these field offices and their volunteers were registering thousands of potential voters and consistently persuading them to reelect the President through phone calls and face-to-face canvasing. The Washington Post states that in Virginia alone, the Democrats had over twenty thousand volunteers involved in the get out to vote campaign. On the day before the election the Republican Party boasted on Twitter that it had knocked on 75,000 doors in Ohio on the previous day. But, as the Obama campaign had told the Guardian, on the same day in Ohio the Democrats had knocked on 376,000.
In Pennsylvania, where I was campaigning, every potential voter was contacted twice a day in the final four days of the election race. Childcare was provided for those that required it, as was transport to the polls. This was particularly crucial in turning out the economically disenfranchised African American vote in the city of Philadelphia. On Election Day, every potential voter was contacted repeatedly until they had gone to the polls.
While American politics and elections are still undoubtedly dominated by financial capital, and President Obama raised and spent obscene sums alongside his Republican rival, personally I am encouraged by the fact that this election was fought and won by grassroots mobilization and thousands of young volunteers.