Monday, October 06, 2008

The Secret Weapon

Everybody, ourselves included, love to poll-watch for signs of who's leading in the presidential race. But Democrats have a not-so-secret (but hugely undervalued) weapon going into November; new voter registrations:

In the past year, the rolls have expanded by about 4 million voters in a dozen key states -- 11 Obama targets that were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 (Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico) plus Pennsylvania, the largest state carried by Sen. John F. Kerry that Sen. John McCain is targeting.

In Florida, Democratic registration gains this year are more than double those made by Republicans; in Colorado and Nevada the ratio is 4 to 1, and in North Carolina it is 6 to 1. Even in states with nonpartisan registration, the trend is clear -- of the 310,000 new voters in Virginia, a disproportionate share live in Democratic strongholds.

The Obama campaign says it expects the numbers of new voters in swing states to swell even more later this month as elections offices process the tens of thousands of registrations still pouring in. And it exudes confidence about its ability to turn the new voters out with a vigorous follow-up operation. "This a lesson we learned. The old-fashioned way of registering voters was to stand on the corner of the street, stand on the campus quad and register one by one, which we still do," said Jon Carson, the campaign's national field director. "But another important component is getting people the information they need to participate."

Those new registrations turn into voters who will show up to the polls and vote Democratic.

The Obama campaign predicts that 80 percent of the voters it is registering will support the Democrat, and that 75 percent will turn out, a rate it bases on turnout during the primaries. That means that for every 100,000 voters it registers, it would net a 45,000-vote edge on Election Day. In Virginia, that projection would mean an extra four percentage points from this year's new voters in a state that Bush won by eight points in 2004.

Donald Green, a Yale political scientist, said history suggests turnout rates lower than 75 percent among truly newly registered voters. The Obama campaign's higher rates of turnout during the primaries may have been boosted by voters who were re-registering at a new address or under a new party, he said. "New registrants tend to vote at reasonably high rates but not very high rates," he said. "Most surge in turnout comes from already registered voters."

But Pearce, the North Carolina consultant, speculated that this year's election might shatter some of those expectations, based on the energy he is seeing and the reach of Obama's get-out-the-vote operation there. "It's the enthusiasm gap," he said. He added: "They'll get a lot of them out on Election Day. I'm not an organization guy -- I'm skeptical of the people who think the organization is going to turn it all. But they've made me a believer."

Another example of this phenomenon is in Georgia, where the new voter registrations of black voters match that of whites, even though blacks comprise only about twenty-nine percent of the state's population, a phenomenon which threatens to slash away the lead McCain has even in a "safe" red state like Georgia.

A seventy-five percent tunrout might be overestimating the impact somewhat, as there's nothing to suggest that turnout in the general election will be the same as turnout in the primary. Then again, perhaps they will be thes same, or perhaps turnout in the general will be greater. Either way, those numbers means tens of thousands of votes for Obama that Kerry didn't have in 2004, good tidings indeed given that Obama is already dead even or leading McCain in polls in many key states.

UPDATE: Also, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the recent poll results, combined with these voter registration tallies, could have a dramatic impact on races down the ballot for the Senate and House. And if you're a Republican, when it rains it pours. Races that two weeks ago were looking like long shots for Dems, are suddenly neck-and-neck:

SurveyUSA. 9/28-29. Likely voters. 3.8% (9/14-16 results)

Chambliss (R) 46 (53)
Martin (D) 44 (36)

That's a 15-point swing in just two weeks, and our Research 2000 poll confirms SUSA's latest numbers. This one is neck and neck, with Chambliss -- the ass who morphed Democratic war hero and triple amputee Max Cleland into Osama Bin Laden -- suddenly falling well-short of the magic 50 percent "safe" mark for an incumbent.

Now add massive turnout by Democratic voters on Nov. 4th, and you have a recipe for a stunning upset, not only in Georgia, but in other states as well. The economic meltdown appears to have hurt the Republican brand at all levels.

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