by Lanny Davis – 11/5/16
There has been a lot of media and pundit commentary in the last several weeks suggesting that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton may face difficulty in the presidential race because African-Americans are voting in lower percentages in early voting tabulations than they did in 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama was on the ballot.
While the reports vary, the states most frequently mentioned as having lower African-American turnout for early voting are Florida and North Carolina.
It’s amazing to me how obviously misleading and wrong this analysis is — that is, how it ignores at least two political realities that those of us who have been involved in ground operations of presidential campaigns over the years can readily understand. (I have been so involved one way or another with such operations in every presidential campaign since 1968. I know what you’re thinking: Get a life, Davis.)
Reality No. 1 is that — duh — Obama as the nation’s first African-American major party nominee in 2008, and first African-American president in 2012, would more likely energize African-American “soft” voters than Clinton.
So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that that African-American turnout is likely to be higher for Obama than for Clinton. Yet many pundits uncritically cite the apparently lower percentages in pre-voting by African-Americans in 2016 as evidence of Clinton’s weakness.
Reality No. 2 is that the pundits are ignoring the distinction between two types of “ground” operations: one pre-Election Day and the other on Election Day.
During the pre-Election Day time period, the organizational focus is on two things: early voting, which now is allowed in many states, and absentee ballots.
Most early voting allows an assessment of African-American turnout by measuring turnout from neighborhoods that are predominantly African-American.
But that is not always the case with respect to absentee ballots, since identifying the neighborhood or race of the individual on an absentee ballot is not possible since they remain sealed until Election Day, when they are finally opened and counted. (This might not be the case in all states, but it is the case in many).
The second type of ground operation, and maybe more important, occurs on Election Day, sometimes called “get out the vote” or “GOTV.”
Starting at dawn, tens of thousands of volunteers in the Clinton campaign, most involved for over a year in headquarters throughout the battleground states, will go out door-to-door, meeting in person or telephoning one voter at a time, and here is what is critical: They will use lists containing names, addresses, neighborhoods and phone numbers of voters who have already been contacted by Clinton volunteers, some of them many times, and are confirmed as being “hard” committed Clinton voters.
Most of these voters have been called many times in the last several weeks to be sure they still are committed. I know because during the primaries since early in 2016 and just recently in central Pennsylvania, I have been on the telephone in the local headquarters telephone bank re-calling Clinton voters to be sure they are going to vote and that they remain committed to Clinton.
In the hours I spent, not one has said they have changed their minds, and many are non-Democrats (either independents or undeclared.)
I know that tens of thousands of Clinton volunteers in all the battleground states are already being trained and assigned specific neighborhoods and with specific lists of these committed Clinton voters for the Election Day “ground game.”
On Election Day, each of them will be visited door-to-door, and/or called and re-called from early morning until the polls close to be sure they vote. Many who are too elderly to drive or don’t have transportation will, if they so request, be picked up by a Clinton campaign volunteer to be driven to the polls.
I have been involved in these GOTV Election Day operations for Clinton and other Democratic Presidential candidates over the years, and I know the Obama GOTV in 2008 and 2012 was the best the country has ever seen.
Now the combination of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s, Obama’s and Clinton’s ground operations all together working over these many months and all working on Nov. 8 is the most awesome grassroots ground game GOTV operation I have ever seen in all these years.
So this Election Day vote-pulling/ground game Clinton operation is why drawing too many adverse conclusions from the pre-voting percentages of African-Americans is so misleading and inaccurate. As Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, told me recently, Election Day GOTV can actually be far more effective in African-American neighborhoods, since their motivation will be helped by personal contacts and peer-to-peer, door-to-door visits and telephone calls on Election Day.
If the election is close in battleground states, as we know is the case in at least some of them, then the Election Day ground game should give Clinton at least a 1 to 3 percentage point advantage — if not more — over GOP nominee Donald Trump, whom almost everyone agrees has no ground game of any significance (at least that his campaign has organized).
Depending on a general effort by the Republican National Committee on behalf of all Republicans, even if it can compare to the Clinton ground game, it isn’t likely to compete with the turnout advantage Hillary Clinton will enjoy.
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Davis is co-founder of both the Washington law firm Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC and Trident DMG, a strategic media firm specializing in crisis management. He served as special counsel to former President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998 and is a regular columnist for The Hill newspaper. He has been a friend of Hillary Clinton since they were students at Yale Law School together in 1969 and 1970.
To read the column on The Hill, click here.