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The Palin Trump Card: TURNOUT

Howard Dean almost made history in 2004. While John Kerry just plain fumbled the opportunity handed to him, Dean's fund-raising and grassroots registration and turnout drives were spectacularly successful. Over 58 million Americans voted for Kerry-Edwards in the presidential election, an amazing success for the campaign's workers and planners. President Bush, however, claimed over 62 million votes, on the strength of a similarly epic turnout effort. The 2004 election turned on many points of decision, but in effective terms both parties knew they had to maximize their turnout.

Fast forward to today. Rasmussen Reports (whom I distrust to some degree, because they do not reveal all of their methodology and weighting rationale to the media, bloggers, or academics) released a poll showing Barack Obama leading John McCain by 2 points, 48% to 46%. The race is statistically tied, says Rasmussen. Looking more closely, however, I noticed how Rasmussen has weighted the respondent pool, with 39.7% weighted as Democrats, 32.1% as Republicans, and 28.2% as unaffiliated.

The significance of this weighting is that, as I have warned before, it is not based on any established statistical record or census report. Instead, Rasmussen does what it calls "dynamic weighting". What they do, by their own admission, is to establish "baseline targets" for party affiliation by reviewing "survey interviews with a sample of adults nationwide completed during the preceding three months". When translated into English, Rasmussen is admitting that they use the results from previous polls to weight their new polls, even though this is - by definition - circular logic and is invalid for any poll which is authentically using pure RDD methodology in its respondent contact procedure (that is, a pure random method of contacting people means that you have near-absolute certainty that you are not calling anyone from prior polls, and therefore there is no connection between your present and former respondent pool except that they meet the defined criteria, and therefore conditions of the former do not influence the conditions of the present). Rasmussen has no effective basis for claiming the party affiliation in its polls, as a result of its invalid system. This happens a lot with polling groups, but it is a critical factor in the results they report, and as such I must warn the readers regularly about this practice. While no proven scientific method exists to track and report party affiliation between elections, the reader should at least expect a consistent ratio to be used, and for polling groups to obtain the basis of party weighting using outside and objective sources for their party identification data.

- continued -

So anyway, using Rasmussen's made-up affiliation numbers, we see that if Rasmussen's poll is correct and if 39.7% of the voters are really Democrats, 32.1% of the voters are really Republicans, and 28.2% are really unaffiliated, then Obama-Biden has the support of 46 to 50 percent of the people responding to the poll, while McCain-Palin has the support of 44 to 48 percent of the people responding. But suppose that more than 39.7% of the voters are Democrats? What if more than 32.1% of the voters are Republicans? From my experience, I can say that self-identified Democrats and Republicans are much more likely to vote than people without a party affiliation. And what if some factor or issue makes some voters of a certain party affiliation stay home? That's happened before you know, it hurt Bush I in 1992 and Humphrey in 1968, and there's more than a few groups which have said earlier that they would sit at home this fall. Not too many people have talked about it recently, and the ones who did seemed to assume they were not problems anymore, but McCain had to worry about hard-line conservatives, while Obama had to worry about Hillary's army. McCain needed to assure folks that his age and health were not reasons to doubt his ability, while Obama needed to assure folks that he had the judgment to make good executive decisions, even if his record up to now was empty. McCain needed to show Republicans he stood for the party's ideals, and to show independents that he was a different man from George Bush. Obama needed to show Democrats he was a man able to accomplish their goals, while proving to the nation his claim to be able to reach across the aisle. There are a lot of folks with reasons to walk away from the election, and to doubt the claims of the nominees from either party. Victory may well come down to which party best retains its existing active support, and beings back its doubters.

That brings us to Sarah Palin. John McCain picked Palin to be his running mate after Barack Obama chose Joe Biden to be his VP nominee. Biden was essentially the "safe" pick, meant to shore up Obama's clear deficiencies in foreign policy and resume depth. Hillary Clinton was an obvious choice for VP, but the Obama campaign clearly worried about whether Clinton would remain an ally after November, and the campaign could be embarassed if Clinton had publicly declined the post, as some rumored she would do. And because the Obama campaign depended so heavily on Barack Obama's personal charisma, there was no effective way the VP pick could expect to retrieve those voters that were not already attracted to Obama.

Things were much different for McCain. The threat of mainline Republicans staying home was a serious problem; even the likelihood that they would vote for him but withhold campaign support for registration and GOTV drives could seriously damage McCain in key battleground states. McCain therefore needed a running mate who would strongly appeal to the conservatives, yet not alienate the other key GOP candidates from the primaries. McCain needed someone with the skills to step into the role of President if it became necessary, ideally someone familiar with the executive roles and with energy experience. Also, McCain was clearly chasing Obama in overall support, and needed a VP pick who would energize his supporters and create media interest in his campaign. In terms of strategy, McCain wanted a running mate who would increase the level of turnout his campaign could expect in November, who would be able to retain and protect gains he had made in recent months, and whose skills would complement his own. The selection of Sarah Palin proved a near-perfect response to those needs. Palin's solid credentials as a conservative went a long way to satisfy demands from conservatives who worried McCain would be less like Ronald Reagan and more like Gerald Ford. Her accomplishments as a woman may not attract great numbers of Clinton supporters away from Obama, but those who had already defected to McCain are now more inclined to stay as his supporters. But more to the point, a huge demographic has opened for McCain-Palin, one which has been largely ignored by Barack Obama. In choosing Palin, McCain has taken advantage of yet another Obama blunder.

Palin's credentials also directly undercut Obama's claims to quality judgment and executive qualification. Even as Obama's supporters tried to ridicule Palin's experience as a mayor and governor, the scale of her accomplishments demonstrates that Obama and Biden, even put together, have effectively no executive experience of any kind, and worse, were unaware of that fact. Biden has shown that he does not understand the difference between committee experience in the Senate, and executive decisions made by a head of state, while Obama lamely tried to claim that running for President counted as executive experience (rather like saying that applying for a job means you have experience in it!).

This election, like 2004, will be decided by turnout, by which party convinces the most folks not only to like their candidates, but also to register and really, truly, go out and vote when the time comes. Sarah Palin is a trump card for which Obama-Biden simply has no answer.


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Comments (29)

Need to keep pushing ... gr... (Below threshold)

Need to keep pushing ... ground game on Nov 4.

I'm more skeptical of polli... (Below threshold)

I'm more skeptical of polling every day. You can skew the results of a poll by the time of day you call respondents, by the day of the week, and by the way you word your questions, and even by the way you read the questions. That doesn't even get into the question of who's paying for the poll. If it's funded by Terry McAuliff or George Soros or Code Pink or CAIR, you can pretty much predict a statistical miracle.

Sarah Palin has so excited ... (Below threshold)
Captain Ned:

Sarah Palin has so excited me that I will volunteer for the McCain/Palin campaign in a state that will, without doubt, go for Obama. Yes, I'm the last Republican voter left in Vermont.

I agree that turnout is goi... (Below threshold)

I agree that turnout is going to be the key. I also agree that Palin was the right choice to whip up the Republican base and bring it out. Without her I don't know if McCain would have had a chance.

However, turnout of the Republican base is not going to be enough. There are slightly more registered dems than repubs and it's pretty obvious that the dem turnout will be huge. So it seems to me the key is whether McCain/Palin can win the independents. I think it remains to be seen whether she can appeal to that group. If they hide her from the press I thinks that's a huge mistake. I also think she can handle herself with the press.

JFO: "There are slightly... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

JFO: "There are slightly more registered dems than repubs"

JFO, what is your source for that claim? Most states do not register voters by party, and so there is no official count for either party nation-wide.

"and it's pretty obvious that the dem turnout will be huge"

Actually, I'd say that statement is in question, just as the GOP turnout is in question. I certainly think Palin makes a difference, but I have not forgotten how strong the anti-McCain sentiment is in certain conservative circles.

I do agree with you, that Palin's best worth is to be the main press for the campaign, to have her face everywhere as much as possible.

DJThe source was ... (Below threshold)


The source was figures from RealClearPolitics and my own experience in Iowa. Admittedly Iowa is only 1 state and a small one but the increase in democratic registration has been huge. From what I see the enthusiasm here is matched by dems everywhere.


As to turnout - I thinks the dems have 2 advantages (and you're right that it can be unpredictable) this year: the first is the antipathy to Bush which will generate a large dem turnout. It can be argued that this isn't about Bush but it lots of folks eyes it is.

The 2nd is that Obama campaign demonstrated in the primaries its ability to turnout the vote. And, he will have a huge financial advantage to do just that.

OK, let's look at that. Fi... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

OK, let's look at that. First, I don't know exactly where RCP got their specific numbers, but thanks for the Iink. I take Mr. Cook's statement with some salt, of course, since registration wil lcontinue for a while yet.

Also, the think about RCP is they like to aggregate reports - their approval ratings and campaign polling reports, for example, are simply an average of all the published reports for a period of time, usually 10 days IIRC. The problem there, is that each poll uses a slightly different methodology, uses different criteria for the respondents (e.g. adults, registered voters, self-identified "likely-voters"), and so on, so the resulting stew from aggregating them has no statistical validity. In an earlier post this week, I said aggregates have about the same veracity as horoscopes, and I still like that analogy.

Anyway, there is no way to officially record how many Democrats or Republicans there are. Here in Texas, for example, people are not registered by party, and although your card is stamped when you vote in the GOP or Dem primary, the state is not informed of that and it has no effect or restriction on you except that you cannot vote in both party primaries the same season. Overall, Texas is very Republican, but that does not mean everyone here is a Republican. Most everyone in Austin and downtown Dallas, for example, are very Democrat and would start a fight if anyone called them a GOP fan. And, like Oklahoma, there are a slew of folks who vote Democrat at the City and County level and maybe for their congressmen, but who have voted GOP for President since they were able to vote. There simply is no way to even give a good guess how many people are one or the other nation-wide, although Pew has done some interesting studies on that subject.

You mentioned Iowa, specifically what you see. Fair enough, but have you noticed what's been happening in Michigan and Minnesota? If CNN can be trusted, GOP participation is way up. But even there we have a problem. Is Minnesota up because of the convention, and if so will it drop now that the convention is over? And even if someone registers as GOP, does that mean they are locked in for McCain? I do not think so, and from what I have seen, Obama also has areas where the screw-them-both-I'm-stayin'-home sentiment is very real.

If you are active in politics, JFO, you know that momentum and inertia are tricky things in a campaign - it's one thing to get folks going when the primary contests are hot and your candidate is fresh off victories, especially where direct participation is rewarded with immediate results in primaries. It's a lot different in September when you have a lot more places to be, a couple months to do a ton of work - sadistically too long to get a sense of seeing results right away, and yet somehow not nearly as much time as you need to get everything done. That's one reason the VP pick is important - frankly, picking Cheney helped the Bush campaign stay focused and energized in the fall of 2000. Do you think it's a coincidence that W suddenly started looking more prepared and organized right after Labor Day? That's also where Gore helped Clinton in 1992, able to double the campaign's face value and to take on anything that might distract Bill Clinton from the main message. It could be that Biden will do that for Obama, certainly his election experience is a real asset Obama needs there. McCain, on the other hand, does not need anyone to tell him how to run his organization, but in his case he needs someone to keep the grassroots energized and the registration drives moving, and boy howdy Palin looks like she will be perfect for that job.

Right about now, the last thing either side should be, is over-confident or careless. Especially since the debates are still to come, and they figure to be a big factor in how undecideds see the race, those "undecideds" including McCain and Obama leaners who are still trying to decide if they will vote this year.

Actually I agree with every... (Below threshold)

Actually I agree with everything you wrote - particularly about over confidence.

I must have a fever- I'm going to the hospital.

What was the RCP final aver... (Below threshold)

What was the RCP final average on election day in 2004?

DJ: funny, I haven't seen t... (Below threshold)

DJ: funny, I haven't seen that many people writing about the truly existing silent majority of conservative/Republican voters who are too busy working to spend any time on this chatter, until the very last minute when they have to vote in an apparently locked Democrat state.

JFO,I'm curious. Y... (Below threshold)


I'm curious. You site antipathy toward Bush as a key factor toward increasing Demorcatic turnout. While I agree that it can be an effective tool, and that the Obama camp has been counting on it heavily, do you think it will still be as effective with Palin in the mix? I ask because the feel I get from folks I talk to on both sides is that McCain has succeeded to some extent in rebranding both himself and the GOP effort. I believe if he is ultimately successful he can reframe this as a referendum on Obama not Bush. In that case would antipathy toward Bush still generate the heat neccessary to push Democratic turnout to the levels Obama needs?

I do believe turn out will ... (Below threshold)

I do believe turn out will be key, an easy prediction.

I spent thursday morning working at a food bank, helping hand out supplemental food. The recipients were mostly older adults and the elderly. Everybody was talking about McCain-Palin. Mostly about Palin, but also reflecting on what a wise choice McCain made. The only talk was about voting for McCain because of Palin. Palin made many of them come off the fence and cemented the choice for others.

Seniors voting for a 72yr old might not seem like that big of a deal, but in my experience they have a habit of voting for whomever will promise to do the most for Social Security and Medicare. That didn't even come up in the converstations. All they talked about was how well Palin did and how smart McCain was to select her.


Concerns about the polling ... (Below threshold)

Concerns about the polling internals aside, it's interesting to see the same thing show up on more than one at the same time (if two people tell you you're drunk...)

If you take both Gallup and Rasmussen at face value (discounting rounding) they both show exactly the same thing--Thursday's polls must have been 48-44 in favor of McCain. That's the way you get to their 3 day average numbers, given what they were showing the two days prior. That would be after Palin but before McCain's speech. Pretty darn good bounce.

Obama had better not depend... (Below threshold)

Obama had better not depend TOO much on Bush-hatred on election day. Kerry seemed to and look what it got him.

Most serious Bush-haters probably would have voted for Kerry even if Bush wasn't the antichrist, and I suspect that the same is true this time around.

Gotta stop you there, Watch... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Gotta stop you there, Watchman, and address some errors you made.

First off, you can't look at any two polls and assume that if they say the same thing that they are accurate. Gallup and Rasmussen, for example, use different methodologies and weighting, so they will usually differ in some important way.

That brings up point 2, don't confuse the poll with the headline. The numbers most-often cited in news and press releases are based on just one question, and that a transitory signal which has no real weight of its own merit. What you want to do is to study trends, especially demographic shifts within a single poll which asks the same questions in a consistent manner for a long period of time. THAT's where you will see significant indicators of strength and weakness.

And third, never try to take a single poll apart and ignore some of it while pointing to something else. The poll is either valid or not, and if it is valid then all of its data has weight in terms of campaign effectiveness.

And finally, never never never forget that no poll is exact. ALL polls have a statistical margin of error, usually between 3 and 4 percent, meaning that either candidate's support could be as much as 4 points lower or higher than the poll indicated, so that any result showing the two with about 8 points of each other is technically 'too close to call'.

I'd better stop before I start defining the percentage of confidence and asymmetric weighting ...

ModeanI think both... (Below threshold)


I think both bases are energized. I hate to say it but I think Palin did a great job on that issue which is why I think it'll be pretty dumb if they keep her away from the press.

So, to me it comes down to the independents. The wild card may well be the economy if things like the unemployment numbers keep going down I think the other potential problem is the Trooper issue in Alaska. I have no pre-judgment about it. I'd like to see all the facts. But if they stonewall it or it goes bad it may have a big effect. I'm impressed with Palin as a person - clearly not her beliefs - and I think she ought to just deal with it and the press as well.

DJI was actually ask... (Below threshold)

I was actually asking a question #9 above, not trying to be snarky.

You've done an excellent job of explaining the fallacy of averaging polls with your stew analogy. Is there an easy way to find out what polls are statistically sound?

The Key Question is:<... (Below threshold)

The Key Question is:

Can the Republicans keep the election close enough in the battleground states in order for Diebold to save the day, with voting "results" not so bizarrely far away from exit polls that they would be investigated?

Bad news for the Republicans: Ohio now has a Democrat as Secretary of State, so we can look for an honest election there.

JFO,Considering that... (Below threshold)

Considering that Palin is cooperating with the investigation and has been very open about it (as well as everything else thrown at her so far) the notion of her or the campaign stonewalling borders on absurd.
This isn't the White House travel office or some missing FBI records, after all.

SCSI didn't say sh... (Below threshold)


I didn't say she was stonewalling I said...."if they stonewall..."

It may not be what you say but were it to be true it surely would be an abuse of power and fly in the face of her claims about ethics. Again, I'm not claiming it is. The truth is none of us know and that's why they have investigations (one she welcomed by the way).

Considering that Palin i... (Below threshold)

Considering that Palin is cooperating with the investigation

That is not true. She is refusing to be deposed, refusing to hand over requested emails (claiming "executive privilege", of all things), and is now demanding the investigation be turned over to her hand-picked panel before she will answer any more questions.

I won't get into a debate of the facts of the case, but don't falsely claim she's cooperating with the investigation.

Palin's attorney is contest... (Below threshold)

Palin's attorney is contesting the proper jurisdiction for deciding the case. No wonder, since the person currently heading the investigation is former prosecutor, Democrat Hollis French, and the state Attorney General has a potential conflict of interest after having contacted two of the parties in the "troopergate" case. Additionally, Palin, her attorney and an Assistant Attorney General allege the Alaska Supreme Court, as well as other state courts, do recognize claims of executive privilege for state executives. Whether or not that holds up is to be decided in court, not by Brian's insinuation.

One further reason Palin likely has for filing to have the Alaska Personnel Board handle the case. It will be done quickly, out in the open, publicly for everyone to see, not in secret, in the senate, headed by a Democrat, where it can be dragged out until a week before the national election with a supposed "damaging report" leaked to the MSM and a Midnight Surprise blared in NY Times and WaPo headlines with no time to rebut them.

With the thug politics of O... (Below threshold)
Dave W:

With the thug politics of Obama on full display and the disgusting attacks against Sarah Palin and her family, i think the democrats are stepping in bag of excrement after bag of excrement. There is no way that Obama can do what he's doing and get away with it. The man has 0 substance that he's willing to talk about. The McCain ticket just added a candidate that has BOTH style and substance.

There is also the Joe Biden factor. That guy can't keep his mouth shut. He's already been busted in some flat out lies and he's only been on obama's ticket for a couple weeks now.

Whether or not that hold... (Below threshold)

Whether or not that holds up is to be decided in court, not by Brian's insinuation.

I didn't say it's not a valid claim, despite your insinuation. But you just reiterated my point that she is challenging several points of the investigation, not cooperating with it.

A few comments (did some... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

A few comments (did some work, went home, fed the daughter, fed the dogs ...)

1. To the people voting negative on JFO's comments 4 and 6, what is that about? The guy's on topic, polite, and intelligent. If you are downing him just because it's him, bad on you.

2. To Hugh about 9 and 17, I did not look that one up because the average did not make a difference to me. Historically, polls on election day or right before have usually been w/in their margin of error, but as I said that margin is big enough to not really tell you much unless it's a blowout. As to which polls are 'statistically sound', that's a good idea but it will take its own post.

3. To everyone going on about the court case, that's off-topic and I'll ask you to find an appropriate thread for it.

4. To comment 18 - Herman, even you have to recognize that comment from you was a boorish smear. D'you really want to post things like that as your level of discussion? It was off-topic, rude, malicious, and not very useful for your side of the aisle. It makes you look cheap and childish. Surely you can do better?

As to which polls are... (Below threshold)

As to which polls are 'statistically sound', that's a good idea but it will take its own post.

I look forward to reading it.

Hopefully you will have time to write about this weekly. We political junkies can't get enough of this.

Why the fuss over the press... (Below threshold)

Why the fuss over the press not having access to Palin yet? Didn't Obama and Hillary have control over open questions in the early half of their campaigns? Sarah has only been valid for one busy week. Let her go home and take care of urgent affairs, see her son off to Iraq, and brush up on policy. My goodness, I wish we had a press with a memory. she will be available in time.

You can dis Rasmussen and t... (Below threshold)

You can dis Rasmussen and talk about their circular logic. Look at their results. They had the 2004 election dead on. Many other pollsters blew it.

i love sarah but she needs ... (Below threshold)
go sarah:

i love sarah but she needs a new speech! mccain needs to read larry kudlow latest column. we are in a recession because of oil. mccain needs to explain that lower gas prices will mean economic growth and job creation.






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