David R. Henderson  

Romney's Get out the Vote Epic Fail

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It's easy to point fingers after a loss and I wouldn't normally do it, but consider what happened.

Project Orca was supposed to enable poll watchers to record voter names on their smartphones, by listening for names as voters checked in. This would give the campaign real-time turnout data, so they could redirect GOTV resources throughout the day where it was most needed. They recruited 37,000 swing state volunteers for this.

I worked on the Colorado team, and we were called by hundreds (or more) volunteers who couldn't use the app or the backup phone system. The usernames and passwords were wrong, but the reset password tool didn't work, and we couldn't change phone PINs. We were told the problems were limited and asked to project confidence, have people use pencil and paper, and try to submit again later.

Then at 6PM they admitted they had issued the wrong PINs to every volunteer in Colorado, and reissued new PINs (which also didn't work). Meanwhile, counties where we had hundreds of volunteers, such as Denver Colorado, showed zero volunteers in the system all day, but we weren't allowed to add them. In one area, the head of the Republican Party plus 10 volunteers were all locked out. The system went down for a half hour during peak voting, but for hundreds or more, it never worked all day. Many of the poll watchers I spoke with were very discouraged. Many members of our phone bank got up and left.


This is from a Romney volunteer in Colorado.

Joel B. Pollak, in the same article, writes:

In fact, Orca diverted scarce resources that would have been better used physically moving voters to polling places. By a rough calculation, Romney lost the election by falling 500,000 to 700,000 votes short in key swing states. If each of the 37,000 volunteers that had been devoted to Orca had instead brought 20 voters to the polls in those states over the course of the day, Romney would have won the election.

Is 20 voters a lot? I don't think so. I haven't followed this lately but I remember that in 1988, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat friend told me that his son, who, by the way, is now head of the NAACP, took credit for taking 300 voters in California to the polls to vote for Dukakis. Even adjusting for fatherly, and son, pride, surely one could make the case that he took 50 or 60.


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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory



COMMENTS (14 to date)
Steve Z writes:

Professor Henderson,

Fascinating article. To all appearances, Obama's team was much more sophisticated than the Romney team. By the way, the expression is "dyed in the wool," not "died in the wool." The expression is a reference to the fact that, if wool is dyed before it is spun into fabric, the color in the resulting fabric is less likely to run. Compare with "these colors don't run," a patriotic boast in reference to the flag.

gwern writes:

> Is 20 voters a lot? I don't think so. I haven't followed this lately but I remember that in 1988, a died-in-the-wool Democrat friend told me that his son, who, by the way, is now head of the NAACP, took credit for taking 300 voters in California to the polls to vote for Dukakis. Even adjusting for fatherly, and son, pride, surely one could make the case that he took 50 or 60.

Boasting by someone who had successful promoted himself all the way to a high position, which even if 100% true can be expected to an extreme outlier... I'd guess that the true mean would probably be closer to 5 than 50.

Wonder what the literature says? Surely someone has taken past counts of 'X volunteers in this area' and run regressions against vote %s and vote totals.

Greg writes:

20 voters over 37,000 volunteers is hideously unrealistic. The guy who took responsibility for 300 voters moved a voter every 2.6 minutes, assuming he worked all 13 hours. If true, he probably drove a bus.

I've worked that side of elections, and you're not moving Greyhound buses of able-bodied students. You're picking up senior citizens one at a time, waiting for them to vote, and taking them home. If you do one every half hour, you're doing extremely well.

Methinks writes:

Greg,

You see, this is why the Democrat strategy works so well. They corralled their voting blocks into ghettos in the 1960's and they can now conveniently use a bus to pick them up and drop them off.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Steve Z,
Thanks for the correction. Eventually, I'll get that one right.

Patrick writes:

My father is a heavy volunteer with the Dems; he and 4 friends spent ~3 hours driving voters to the polls this year. Each of them drove ~5 people during a 3-hour period.

Interestingly, my parents commented that the approach Romney's campaign deployed in Colorado (and other swing states?) is the same approach the Kerry campaign tried in 2004. Guess what? It didn't work back then. Sounds like the Romney campaign is years behind the times.

Ken B writes:

Many a sheep has died in the wool.

MG writes:

There are a lot of ironies, (sad) truths, and interesting bits here.

Methinks points out (not sure when she discovered) that there are huge efficiency advantages to getting out the vote of highly densed clots that have characterized the blue side of the red-blue map. Aside from geography, one would expect a collectivist (communitarian if you wish) philosophy to select for ease of agglomeration.

Patrick points out what can only lead to the conclusion that when it comes to delivering political machinery muscle and logistics, Boston is not a center of excellence, Chicago is.

Various people's comments suggest that big government pols can apparently deliver sophistication and efficiency in gaining power, not (or much less so) in governing.

These same comments suggest that entrpeneurship and incredible work ethic is not just the provence of free market advocates; progressives share it to, their incentives are just different, and the time frame of their commitment is shorter.

Tom Lee writes:

Romney had more serious problems than what happened on election day. See Wall Street Journal article:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324073504578105340729306074.html

Each of them drove ~5 people during a 3-hour period.

Which explains why 'early voting' in Ohio was so important to the Dems there. More 3-hour periods available to each volunteer if they're spread out over several week-ends.

Tom West writes:

Which explains why 'early voting' in Ohio was so important to the Dems there.

Very good point. I hadn't thought of it in terms of making it hard to "get out the vote", just in terms of making voting less convenient for less committed or more economically restricted voters.

Yancey Ward writes:

Get out the vote is so much easier for Democrats because their voters live in much higher density urban areas. Just simple physics.

Peter H writes:

20 votes per volunteer above and beyond what they got? No way.

Even if every Romney volunteer was sitting at home on election day, they wouldn't add 20 votes each when put to work. And they were surely doing some work. Perhaps a better ground game could have gotten one more vote per volunteer...maybe. 20 is absurdly implausible.

This was not a terribly close election. Not a blowout, but not very close.

Half a million people within a handful of states is a very substantial portion of the population. I doubt there were that many Romney supporters who stayed home, particularly given that generally Republicans have voters with a much higher propensity to vote when looked at demographically. Romney wasn't popular enough to win, and no amount of ground game would have fixed that. If Romney had gotten 2% more of the popular vote, it would have mattered. But when you're down by 3 in the popular vote, you basically cannot win.

This was not a terribly close election. Not a blowout, but not very close.

Half a million people within a handful of states is a very substantial portion of the population. I doubt there were that many Romney supporters who stayed home....

Take another look at the numbers. Obama has just barely above 50% (slightly less than W in 2004). Romney may not top McCain's popular vote totals.

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