My friends are scared to death by the closing of the gap between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and by the talk that young people won’t vote because of the so-called enthusiasm gap. If you’re scared too, take heart. Here’s why Hillary will win:
1. National polls are largely irrelevant: The New York Times knows better than to put its national poll on page one Friday. National polls don’t matter.
2. Traditional polls are inaccurate: At the end of the 2012 Obama campaign, we were not using traditional polling for assessing the state of the race. Why? Because the methodology is less reliable than ever, given the wide usage of cell phones and the public’s antipathy toward answering a 20-minute survey. But even more important, traditional polling doesn’t get to what really matters in the last eight weeks of a campaign.
3. What matters most now is targeting: Or more specifically, targeting two groups: Hillary’s core supporters, who the Clinton campaign will make sure come out to vote, and leaning or up-for-grab voters, who are still in play.
4. Hillary’s campaign knows those voters, person by person: Obama’s campaign in 2008 and 2012 invented and perfected the use of “big data” for just this purpose. It combined the extremely sophisticated tracking of voters’ behavior with the most effective tactic of persuading and mobilizing voters ever invented: person-to-person contact.
5. How does this work? Just like companies, the campaign will track your—not your friend’s or brother’s, but your—online behavior through your use of Facebook, travel sites, news outlets, Amazon, etc. They know your interests and preferences, range of income, education, and a lot more. They know if you live in a battleground state or not. And, if you contributed $10 to Hillary’s campaign or bought a t-shirt, they will know even more about you, and importantly, what matters to you politically: maybe you spent a few minutes on her website, and spent the bulk of your time on her page about climate change. Then, they use publicly available databases that show your party registration and if you voted in the past elections—not whom you voted for but if you voted.
Next, they’ll give all this data to their grassroots army that uses it talk to these voters at home. They go door-to-door—skipping those likely Republicans and non-voters, zeroing in on likely or committed Hillary voters. They will contact them, often repeatedly, during these last weeks, asking if they’ve made up their minds; if they haven’t, they ask if there’s information they’d wish to have, or if they’d like to talk to someone about an issue they care about. Or if they’re for sure voting for Hillary, they will ask if they yet know when they’ll vote (before work, during the day, or after work), do they need a ride to the polls, or if they’d like to go with Mrs. Jones two doors down, because she’s driving folks to vote. Reams of data show that you’ll be more likely to vote if you have a plan to vote, or know that others they know will vote.
1. All that is unbelievably valuable and effective: The campaign conducts online polls every night with these targeted voters, and then runs thousands of models with varying turnout and preferences. These surveys are incredibly precise, far beyond traditional polling. Many political professionals believe the legacy of the 2102 campaign will be the death of traditional polling for anything other than message testing.
2. The Republican Party is playing catch up in this area; Trump has none of it: The Democrats have always relied on grassroots organizing, given their communitarianism philosophy, working class constituency and relative lack of funds. Republicans haven’t invested in grassroots much at all. 2008 was a wake-up call for them as to how big data and grassroots can be used together. And in 2012, while Romney did better, they were behind. And they are still behind as a party, but Trump is way, way behind: he has neither a grassroots campaign nor a sophisticated big data operation. It’s Hillary’s secret weapon.
3. Remember how wrong Romney and Rove were on election night 2012? Romney thought he was going to win, and Rove embarrassed himself on Fox News, claiming the election was still in play. Still in play? Obama won by 4 points and 126 electoral votes.
4. Speaking of electoral votes—it’s the other reason national polls don’t matter: What does matter are a few swing states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa, North Carolina, and Arizona, most notably. Hillary’s Electoral College advantage is so strong that Trump could win five of these seven (FL, OH, NC, AZ, IA) and still lose.
5. And one more thing—young people will come out big for Hillary: Yes, there’s an enthusiasm gap (as there was in September 2012 for Obama), but there’s good reason: for young people, the campaign hasn’t really started yet. Many have a disdain for politics. So-called low information voters, they passively follow the basics of the election through their Facebook newsfeed. And they are really busy living life: settling in at college, making ends meet, launching a career or family. Usually, with two weeks to go, they’ll focus on voting.
They share a set of values with Clinton that is anathema to Trump: tolerance, fairness, open-mindedness, optimism, etc. These manifest in real-life issues for them: marriage equality, equal pay for women, gender inclusiveness, economic fairness, equality, etc. They are the new values voters. They are disgusted by what Trump stands for, and naturally align with Clinton. They will vote for her—they just don’t know it yet. Moreover, young people vote as a social bloc; when their friends on campus or at work vote, they will go along. We saw it in 2008, famously, and in 2012, it made the difference in Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, putting the President over the top.
It’s not easy to stand up to the media’s polling obsession, but rest easy. She will win this thing.