Obama Ground Game May Overcome Tight Poll Numbers

The Obama campaign says people will be surprised by who actually turns out to vote in the presidential election.

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In this Oct. 7, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama greets people after speaking at a campaign rally for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley at Bowie State University in Bowie, Md.
In this Oct. 7, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama greets people after speaking at a campaign rally for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley at Bowie State University in Bowie, Md.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina isn't going full-on poll-truther, but he did argue today that public opinion surveys are off because they fail to anticipate diversity of the electorate that will decide the election this year.

"People aren't getting it always right about who and what this electorate's going to be comprised of on Election Day," Messina told reporters on a post-debate conference call the campaign hosted this morning. "I think we continue to think it's going to be a higher percentage of minorities and young people than some are forecasting." He cited states like Florida, where, he said, there are 250,000 more African-Americans and Latino voters registered to vote than there were four years ago and North Carolina where, he said, "in the first five days of early vote 50 percent more African-Americans voted than in 2008."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

The argument that the public polls are failing to capture the proper breakdown of the electorate is superficially like the one Republicans made through much of September and into October that polls showing Obama winning were giving bad data because they were oversampling Democrats. The key difference is that unlike conservatives before the first debate, Messina isn't accusing anyone of engaging in a conspiracy. He's just saying that people will be surprised by the Obama turnout operation.

And that's the last wild card of the election—how good is the vaunted Obama ground game? National polls released in the last few days have been scattershot: As Nate Silver points out, 15 polls were released Monday and swung from a four point Obama lead (IBD/TIPP) to a six point Romney lead (Gallup). And if you average all 15 polls out, it's a tie. What it comes down to is a taut race where who shows up makes a huge difference.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

Most reports indicate that the Obama team has a much stronger, more elaborate organization on the ground in swing states than does Team Romney. We're in the early voting phase which, Messina said, is focused on turning out "sporadic" Obama voters—supporters who cannot otherwise be relied upon to go vote. "Sporadic voters matter here," he said. "It can't just be about getting your traditional Democrats to vote early. If that were the case then we would be wasting our time and money. This is about increasing the overall share of people who may be drop-off voters and our numbers and public numbers show that more sporadic voting Obama voters are voting than Romney voters."

And while Messina, pointing out that with early voting ongoing in battleground states, said "every single day now is election day," we'll have a final answer in 14 days. Until then, as senior strategist David Axelrod told reporters on the call, "We know what we know and they know what they know … We'll know who's bluffing and who isn't in two weeks."

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