Organization matters (and Trump doesn’t have it)

I gave a talk to a group of NCSU students yesterday about how to make sense of all the election polls.  Thing is, to some degree, there’s no making sense.  Well, of course you can average all the polls and that does, in fact, give us a pretty good idea.  But that said, when you look at the patterns across various polls with various methodologies, etc., it’s hard to conclude much other than that Hillary Clinton is currently winning.

That said, whatever her real margin is— and even the averages are quite different in the aggregators as they use different approaches to averageing– I actually strongly suspect that come election day, Clinton will out-perform the polls.  Why?  Trump’s historically poor campaign.  And in this regard, not just the dumb stuff he says, etc., but also the way in which he has almost completely ignored campaign organization.  And organization does, in fact, matter.  Nice post from John Sides:

Stories about the ramshackle nature of the Trump campaign are abundant. Arecent article called Donald Trump’s organization “more concert tour than presidential campaign.” A 12-year-old appears to be running Trump’s field office in a populous Colorado county. Sixty percent of registered voters — and even 40 percent of Republicans — believe that Trump’s campaign is “poorly run.”

This is obviously unprecedented in modern presidential elections. Typically, the candidates have similar resources and campaign organizations. Typically, it is difficult for one candidate to have a large advantage in televised advertising or fieldwork…

By comparison, Trump is being vastly outspent in advertising and is limited essentially to whatever field organization the Republican National Committee can provide — which will be exceeded by Hillary Clinton’s, much as Romney’s was exceeded by Obama’s. How much will this cost him on Election Day? [emphases mine]

Probably the best estimate comes from a recently published piece by political scientists Ryan Enos and Anthony Fowler. They show that the effect of the 2012 presidential campaign on voter turnout was quite large, about 7-8 points overall.

The more political science inclined of you should read how they got the estimate– it’s a really nice bit of analytical work.  That said, onto how it matters:

Notably, Enos and Fowler also found that these increases in turnout were similar among Democrats and Republicans. As they noted in a previous Monkey Cage post, this implies that both the Romney and Obama campaigns were able to mobilize voters successfully…

So what is the implication for Trump if he doesn’t have a full-fledged field organization? Fowler suggested thinking through the math like this.

Imagine you have a place where 50 percent of the voters support Trump and 50 percent support Clinton. If equal proportions of Trump and Clinton supporters vote, the candidates would obviously tie with 50 percent of the vote each.

Now suppose, for example, that 55 percent of Trump supporters vote but 62 percent of Clinton supporters vote — that 7-point effect again. Now Trump’s share of the vote is 47 percent. The math is: (.55*.50)/[(.55*.50)+(.62*.50)]. In other words, Trump’s disadvantage in campaigning turned a tie into a 6-point defeat…

But clearly the Trump campaign faces a major challenge at this point in time. When you’re down 7 points in the polls and early voting is already starting, you need every vote you can get. But the Trump campaign seems more likely to leave votes on the table.

In short, whatever margin Hillary Clinton likely wins by on election day, it will likely be more than it otherwise would have been as Trump is seemingly leaving so many votes on the table through poor organization.  So, not only does Trump need to catch Clinton in the polls, there’s a good argument to be made that he would need to notably surpass her to make up for his remarkably deficient political organization.



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Organization matters (and Trump doesn’t have it)

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Trump’s ego tells him that he can win the Presidency by the sheer weight of his tremendous personality. After all, he does have the best ego to be found anywhere.
    The crowds at his rallies feed that ego which is why he’ll speak regardless of the political utility of the state he is in. He thinks the people there must be typical of the American voter except for a few soreheads who don’t seem to get how great he is.
    This might be reassuring to some of us soreheads who don’t get Trump, except for what if he’s right?
    Did anyone notice how he looked like a tired old man standing on stage with the President of Mexico?

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