Barack Obama has correctly reminded his supporters and staff not to get cocky, to remember the lessons of his New Hampshire primary loss. Nothing can be taken for granted, especially in the era of Republican voter suppression efforts, scurrilous robo-calls, and escalating ultra-right racism and desperation.
Nonetheless, if we do the campaigning, there are good reasons to expect that our work could result in a landslide.
It is likely, most experts and pundits say, that the polls will tighten, making it look like the election is getting closer. However there are a number of factors which, taken together, can lead to a much bigger landslide than the polls predict.
Many of the issues with poll numbers and other predictions have been discussed separately by experts, such as Nate Silver at www.fivethirtyeight.com. But usually they are not all put together.
1. The Cell Phone Issue: Many nowadays, especially young people, don’t have land lines, so most of the polls undercount a section of the populace that is heavily pro-Obama.
2. The African American Turnout Factor: Most polls have likely voter turnout models factored in, based on past turnout levels. If, as is very likely, African American turnout is significantly higher this year and even more Democratic than usual, that can change the outlook in states with a large African American population, mainly but not only in the South.
3. The Latino American Turnout Factor: The same is true for Latino voters, registered and energized by the immigrant rights upsurge several years ago. A greater Latino turnout can be enough to change the results in important swing states like Colorado and Nevada, and have a positive impact nationwide.
4. The Youth Turnout Factor: The same applies to younger voters, who likely will vote for Obama in numbers that this year may surpass other demographics, and who will likely vote in much higher percentages than previously.
5. The New Registrants Turnout Possibility: Newly registered voters tend to vote in higher percentages than the population at large, and with new registrations breaking records in most states and many new registrants motivated to vote Democratic, this too will improve Obama’s vote. If they turnout in higher percentages than in previous elections, this can improve his vote significantly.
6. The Reverse Bradley Effect: In some primaries, Obama’s vote was measurably higher than predicted by the polls, perhaps for some of the reasons already listed. It also may be partly caused by African American voters who are distrustful of pollsters and describe themselves in improbably large numbers as still undecided.
7. The Enthusiasm Gap: Obama voters have been much more enthusiastic. With the exception of an uptick when Sarah Palin was first named (which has largely disappeared), Republican voters are much less enthusiastic, which depresses right-wing turnout.
8. The Gender Gap: As has been true for many election cycles, women vote in a larger percentage for Democrats. With fears about McCain’s Supreme Court nominees who would support overturning Roe vs. Wade, with McCain’s sneering about women’s “health” in the last debate, and with more women voting in general, this will continue to be true this year. In even higher percentages, unmarried women trend Democratic, and make up almost 25% of the electorate.
9. The Early Voting Factor: More states are doing early voting, offering same day registration and voting, and more people are voting by absentee ballot and by mail, all resulting in increased turnout. Early voting also gives some voters a chance to correct any voter registration problems in advance of Election Day, and will decrease lines on Election Day resulting in fewer discouraged potential voters who turn away.
10. The Money Gap: For the first time in many decades, the Republicans are at a financial disadvantage. It is not as big as sometimes reported when you put all the Republican campaign funds together with right-wing 527 “independent advertising groups, but it is still important. Obama’s campaign is outspending McCain’s in many swing states (and reserving a half-hour for a political broadcast on October 29th on many networks). As well, the millions of smaller donors for Obama provide more people with a bigger direct stake in the outcome.
11. The Party ID Factor: Voters in many states that have voter party ID requirements show large changes in voter party ID, from Republican to Independent, from Independent to Democrat, and from Republican to Democrat. A generic party ID/turnout is factored into many polls, so if Democratic turnout is higher than what is expected for historical reasons, even by a few percentage points, that can have a huge impact on the results.
12. The Playing Offense Advantage: More Republicans Congressmen and Senators are retiring this year, meaning that there are more Republican open seats up for switching. Additionally, Obama is playing offense in “red” states while McCain is playing defense in those same states. The likelihood of any state switching from Democrat to Republican in the presidential race and in electoral votes is slim to non-existent.
13. The Iraq War: The lies of the Bush administration getting us into the war, the exorbitant costs of what has become our longest war, the disgraceful treatment of veterans, the overstressed military families suffering multiple deployments, the failure of most of Bush’s foreign policy, all have led to large majorities of voters demanding that we end the war.
14. The Reality-Based Program Advantage: Obama’s program is rooted much more in the actual needs of voters—on jobs creation, environmental protection and climate change, diplomacy, and health care, to mention just a few.
15. The Distrust of Bush Factor: In addition to his conduct of the Iraq War and the obvious problems he caused leading to the economic meltdown we face, Bush’s repulsive lack of action during and following Hurricane Katrina have exacerbated our general distrust of Bush’s policies, intensifying the desire for change.
16. The Third Term for Bush Perception: McCain’s inability to distance himself from Bush in any meaningful way ties him to the most unpopular President since polls started.
17. The Financial Crisis Reality: Partly due to McCain’s erratic actions and Obama’s calm, measured response to the financial crisis, but also to the generic preference of voters to trust Democrats more on economic issues, and partly to the size and scope of the crisis, this has accelerated and intensified all the other factors.
18. The “Most Important Election” factor: Every election is claimed to be the most important of our lifetime, but this year many more people believe it is and are more motivated to vote and vote Democratic. This is intensified by the financial crisis, by the last eight years of Republican domination, by the Republican Congressional corruption scandals and general incompetence of much of the Bush administration, by major demographic shifts, and by the sense that there is a real opportunity this year to make a difference on our country’s priorities.
Except for the financial crisis which has decisively affected polls nationwide, no one of these factors by itself is large enough to change the election results significantly in more than a few states. But taken together, they show the real potential of a once-in-a-generation landslide.
These are not the only factors by a long shot either. Obama’s outreach to Evangelical voters who are turning away from the ultra-right, his outreach to disgusted Republican voters, his outreach to military voters and their families, the more disciplined and aggressive Democratic campaign this year (learning the lessons from Swiftboating), and most especially the massive efforts by the labor movement—especially taking on racism and debunking smears, will all impact the final election results. This year, coattails will work both ways—the Obama campaign improving the chances of downticket Democrats, and the downticket races improving Obama’s chances in some places as well. Also worth mentioning are the disgust of fiscal conservatives with the Bush budget-busting, the revulsion of many to Sarah Palin due to her obnoxious campaigning and lack of experience, and the age gap between candidates. A distinct edge in the use of technology, social networking appealing to younger voters, and even advertising in video games all advantage Obama. As well, the incompetence of the McCain campaign improves our chances.
True enough, there are countervailing forces as well. The blatant appeals to racism, the coded appeals to ultra-nationalism and militarism, the increased desperation of the ultra-right, the scare tactics they are using and which they will intensify between now and November 4th, the voter suppression campaign and dirty tricks like the vicious robo-calls which have already started, to mention a few. These dangers lead to the final and most important factor:
19. The Ground Game: Partly due to the Obama campaign financial advantage, partly due to the organizing philosophy of the Obama campaign, partly due to a huge volunteer gap (here is where the enthusiasm gap matters most), partly due to the grassroots nature of the Obama campaign from the start, and partly due to the Obama campaign using the long primary fight to build statewide organization in almost all states, and partly due to the organizational advantage of union GOTV efforts, Obama has a massive advantage in the ground game. Better organized than in previous presidential campaigns, with much better technological tools, with way more offices and staff in most states than the McCain campaign, the Obama campaign has rewritten the rules for staffing, GOTV, computerized organization, new voter registration, and providing ways for volunteers to join, donate, and take action.
Even though Obama is not a left-wing candidate, such a landslide would forever change the political life of our country, would open the doors to millions of workers joining unions, and would help enact aspects of Obama’s program (health care, ending the Iraq War, cutting taxes for the vast majority, raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, improving and expanding social programs) which will benefit the lives of hundreds of millions.
So donate, display yard signs, wear buttons, call friends and family, doorknock, hold house parties, sign-wave on Election Day, volunteer in other ways, and vote. You will make history, and change our future for the better.