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Trump’s Weak Campaign Organization

Ross Douthat imagines [1] a Trump victory scenario:

Now let me turn the screw a little further. The American Electoral College is an unusual system, and Trump is an unusual candidate. He’s likely to underperform among normal Republicans in many red states, where the white working class is already very Republican, by losing white suburban professionals who voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney. But he might overperform in Rust Belt states where the white working class is still a residually liberal swing vote, and where there are a lot of disaffected independents who sat out 2012. (That’s probably how you can have state polls showing strikingly close races in Republican strongholds like Georgia and Arizona, even though Trump is quite competitive in swing states like Ohio.)

This unusual combination — underperforming but still probably winning Republican states, possibly overperforming in purple states — suggests a true black swan endgame: Not Trump 44, Clinton 43, but Clinton 45, Trump 43 … except that Trump, with his Rust Belt strength, loses a lot of reliable deep-red votes he doesn’t need and turns out just enough nonvoters in a few key swing states [bold mine-DL] to take the Electoral College 270-268.

All of this sounds plausible enough, except for the part where the Trump campaign successfully gets his voters to turn out. Trump’s campaign organization has never been very good, and in the primaries it usually didn’t need to be. His campaign infrastructure for the general election is very weak, which suggests that there could be a lot of people saying that they’ll vote for Trump in poll responses that won’t show up. There is now an effort to improve the Trump campaign’s ground game [2], but they are off to a very late start. Florida [3] is just one example of the complete mismatch between the Clinton and Trump campaigns:

By Labor Day, Clinton opened 51 field offices. Trump opened one.

Trump and Clinton are tied in Florida [4] right now, so her advantage in organization may make all the difference. This isn’t just a Florida problem for him. Trump lags behind Clinton in campaign organization all over the country. Jim Geraghty noted [5] earlier this month:

As of Aug. 30, Hillary Clinton has 291 offices in 15 battleground states. Donald Trump has 88.

For comparison, back in 2012, Obama’s campaign had 790 campaign offices across the country, and 433 were in five states: Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Mitt Romney’s campaign had 284 campaign offices, with 139 in those five key states.

It is possible that the RNC will be able to fill in some of the gaps left by the Trump campaign, and it is trying to do that, but overall the Republican ground game is significantly weaker than it was four years ago. Campaign organization does matter and has an impact [6] on the final outcome. The weakness of his campaign organization will probably cost Trump one to two points in several states that he can’t afford to lose. So it’s hard to see how Trump narrowly ekes out an Electoral College victory with better-than-expected results in the Midwest, especially when he is behind by several points in most of the Midwestern toss-up states.

In fact, the Electoral College math looks very daunting for Trump. The RCP electoral map [7] assigns Trump/Pence 154 electoral votes right now, and assigns 209 to Clinton/Kaine. In order to reach 270, Trump has to sweep almost all of the states listed as toss-ups, while Clinton can get there with just a few of them. Let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that Trump wins all the toss-ups where is currently leading in the polling average by even the smallest margin: Florida, Iowa, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri, and Maine’s 2nd Congressional district. That gets him to 227. It’s hard to see where Trump gets the other 43 votes that he needs. Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania haven’t voted for a Republican for president since the ’80s, and they don’t seem likely to do so now. Trump could conceivably win North Carolina and Ohio, but those two would’t get him there, and adding New Hampshire’s 4 votes wouldn’t be enough. The best-case scenario for Trump that I can see is that he wins 264 electoral votes, and I assume he isn’t going to get anywhere close to that.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Trump’s Weak Campaign Organization"

#1 Comment By R.S. Rogers On September 14, 2016 @ 11:23 am

But Trump has already defeated several opponents who had stronger ground games and GOTV operations. Jeb!, Rubio, and particularly Cruz all lost to Trump despite having better organizations and traditional canvassing and GOTV programs. John Kasich is the only one of Trump’s opponents who’s actually leveraged a superior ground organization to beat him, and he only managed that trick in his own home state of Ohio.

In my limited experience with Trump supporters in Wisconsin, I’ve found most to be highly motivated to vote but not very motivated to openly aver their intentions. Several have cited online videos of violence around Trump rallies, which they interpret as showing that there is widespread and officially permitted violence against Trump supporters, and claim to be afraid to speak openly in favor of Trump. The lack of civic courage among Trump supporters may or may not be sufficiently widespread for there to be a meaningful “hidden” corps of Trump voters, but it does feel like Trump voters are generally quite motivated to vote even if they’re not contacted by a Trump GOTV program.

Whereas a massive GOTV effort is absolutely necessary for Democrats – and this is true even when people generally like and prefer the Democratic candidate, as was true in 2008 and 2012. Witness the vast cohort of Democratic-leaning voters who just didn’t bother to show up in 2010 and 2014. Even if Clinton were a highly esteemed individual, she would absolutely need a massive and efficient ground game just to compete. Republicans have the advantage of voters more prone to turn out and more informed about the polling places, and this year the emotions around Trump may be just as effective at turning out his voters than any organized GOTV operation.

#2 Comment By A Different Game On September 14, 2016 @ 12:13 pm

“But Trump has already defeated several opponents who had stronger ground games and GOTV operations. Jeb!, Rubio, and particularly Cruz all lost to Trump despite having better organizations and traditional canvassing and GOTV programs. John Kasich is the only one of Trump’s opponents who’s actually leveraged a superior ground organization to beat him, and he only managed that trick in his own home state of Ohio. “

The problem is that this time it’s a different game. Trump needs voters who are less strongly motivated than his primary voters were. He’ll need every vote. He’s got to push those who don’t particularly care for him to the polls.

#3 Comment By CharleyCarp On September 14, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

I’m no expert, but I do a lot of door-knocking and phone-banking. It’s completely different in a primary than a general. The party databases tell you someone’s party intensity (often not accurately, at that) but it’s a rare case that you’d be able to tell much difference between someone likely to favor one candidate in a primary over another.

Two inferences follow from this: (1) I don’t think you can use the Republican primary to make any judgments at all about GOTV for Trump and (2) I expect that Trump will be able to get good enough data from the party in Ohio, Florida, NC, and a few others to make a fairly strong push, at least as to people who voted in 2012 and/or 2014.

Finding people who didn’t vote in those cycles is a much tougher nut to crack.

#4 Comment By George On September 14, 2016 @ 3:12 pm

Democrats always go in with a significant electoral college edge given the way their key voting blocs lay out and yes I am sure sure the infrastructure of her get out the vote operation is much better (at least for now), but you are missing the huge enthusiasm gap that exists and which I think more than makes up for that. I think that gap could actually increase even more in Trump’s favor based on a variety of factors including: him exceeding expectations in the debates (which are low); momentum from the sense among his supporters that he can win; the growing perception that he looks “presidential” (or at least as much as she does); further gaffes from Clinton like her deplorables remark; a negative economic or national security event like a terror attack; more Clinton health questions; and so forth. In short, between improvements to the ground game between now and Election Day, and the likely chance Trump supporters are more energized to go out and vote than Clinton’s supporters are, his campaign should be fine.

#5 Comment By Irony Abounds On September 14, 2016 @ 4:54 pm

No matter how it happens, a Trump loss is a win for the country, given the alternative.

#6 Comment By Myron Hudson On September 14, 2016 @ 6:46 pm

“It is possible that the RNC will be able to fill in some of the gaps left by the Trump campaign, and it is trying to do that, but overall the Republican ground game is significantly weaker than it was four years ago.”

In the meantime, the RNC is getting hosed by Trump who may be our first candidate ever to make money off of a campaign.

“Witness the vast cohort of Democratic-leaning voters who just didn’t bother to show up in 2010 and 2014.”

Yes, that would be the progressives, bless their hearts.

#7 Comment By Calvin On September 14, 2016 @ 7:42 pm

Trump largely matched his primary results with what the polls were saying, except in those cases where he underperformed them. In other words, the people who always said they were voting for Trump were sufficient to win him the primary. He didn’t win because he grabbed a bunch of new voters who weren’t being represented – reliable Republican primary voters liked and favored him throughout the contest and he didn’t need GOTV efforts.

Contra the GOP primary, if Trump merely lives up to his polling numbers he will lose. GOTV efforts are the secret sauce he would need to be able to overperform his standings in the polls – his general dearth of such infrastructure suggests that he is probably going to just match his polls at the time. In which case he will lose, probably quite badly.

#8 Comment By sherparick On September 15, 2016 @ 9:45 am

I don’ think it matters to much. The White Evangelical vote will turn out and it appears that cloud of negativity around Clinton will depress the Obama coalition turn-out. Also, her organization appears to suck as well. In one way, the Bernie Bros are right in that the Democratic establishment roll over for her in early 2015 to make her the favored successor was a big mistake.