Lessons from Obama’s victory

There have already been a string of posts on what Labour should learn from the Obama campaign of 2012. Personally, I think there is more to be learnt from the much more inspirational and human 2008 campaign. The 2012 campaign is more for the election techies with its algorithms and the like. However, this is my summary of the lessons.

  • The polls were very accurate reflecting improvements in polling techniques. If we are well ahead in the last couple of weeks we are likely to win.
  • Money matters. The aggregate election spending for the 2012 American elections will be a record $6 billion, $700 million more than 2008.
  • Some argue that core voter strategies don’t work because Romney’s effort to win on the back of white working class voters failed. On the other hand Obama also focused on his coalition of core voters. Peter Kellner argues that Labour should avoid a core vote strategy in 2015. He points out most voters that switched from Labour to the Lib Dems between 1997 and 2010 are now back in Labour’s camp. That’s not the same as the New Labour ‘Middle England’ strategy, because these are the very voters New Labour managed to lose.
  • While the first debate clearly mattered because it got Romney back into the game, Obama recovered. We shouldn’t focus on them too much.
  • Government doesn’t always lose when the economy is in a mess. The Tories will hope his ‘finish the job’ and ‘don’t let the other lot ruin the recovery’ will work for them in 2015. Unless you have a positive and credible plan you are open to marginal improvements in the economy. A possible scenario in 2014/15 with current forecasts anticipating 1 to 2% growth rates.
  • Some argue that negative advertising works because 86 per cent of Obama’s ads were negative. However, 79 per cent of Romney’s were also negative so it is unclear how much this tells us. Every member I speak to says negative campaigning turns them off. However, I suspect we will see plenty of negative advertising in 2015.
  • Getting the Vote Out matters. Obama got his strongest supporter groups out by investing and outperforming Romney in field offices in key states. In Ohio he had 131 offices to 40, 106 to 47 in Florida, and 61 to 30 in Virginia.The lesson is to invest early in organisers in marginal seats.
  • Don’t assume pundits have their ears to the ground. Take this one from the Red State Blog: “The signs of Obama’s defeat are too clear now to ignore. Given all the available information – Romney’s lead among independents, the outlier nature of the 2008 turnout model, the elections held since 2008, the party ID surveys, the voter registration, early voting and absentee ballot data – I have to conclude that there is no remaining path at this late date for Obama to win the national popular vote. He is toast…”

The problem for Labour in trying to replicate the Obama ground war is that we don’t have the resources or the troops on the ground. The New Labour era killed off much of the active membership and the new organisational structures are simply a pragmatic response. We need a positive, radical vision for Labour to attract the new members and motive the rest. Without that Labour will also be toast.