Politics and Public Opinion, Elections

How Team Obama won, according to the former national deputy director of OFA

Image Credit: Edalisse Hirst (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image Credit: Edalisse Hirst (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

At a fascinating Center for American Progress event yesterday, former national deputy director of Organizing for America Jeremy Bird outlined the four key objectives Team Obama pursued during the 2012 election. Every member of the campaign, from David Axelrod on down, was focused on one or more of these objectives.

1.    Registration. The campaign increased the size of the electorate by registering voters they felt were likely to support the president. There was a particular focus on registering core Obama support groups—nonwhites, unmarried women, and millennials.

2.    Persuasion. Once a voter was registered, it was time to persuade them to vote for Obama. Persuasion tactics ran the gamut from television to direct mail, but the most effective way was to have a volunteer engage them in face-to-face communication.

3.    Turnout. Team Obama made it as easy as possible for their core voters to get to the polls by providing reminders, transportation, and emphasizing early voting. The early vote was a key part of their strategy because core Obama supporters tend to be less likely voters than average. Thus, the campaign knew that giving them multiple opportunities to cast their ballot would be key.

4.    Organization building. Instrumental to all three steps above was having a solid organization. Past Democratic campaigns had relied heavily on outside groups such as organized labor to provide manpower and local expertise, and while Team Obama was happy to accept their help again this year, they also decided that having their own network was vital. This would allow them the greatest degree of control possible over the campaign’s messaging and activities.

The Obama campaign felt that person-to-person communication was vitally important, so they instituted a new model for volunteers. Rather than the traditional “precinct captain” model, they created local neighborhood teams.

These local teams were connected with the overall campaign via an organizer who would work with and learn from the volunteers. This system encouraged team building and a feeling of community among the volunteers, which Bird said made them work all the harder and become even more committed to the president’s cause.

Bird also credited the campaign’s strategy of building multiple field offices in a state (a practice which Republicans mocked) because someone is much more likely to volunteer if there is an office in their neighborhood.

The biggest thing to happen in 2012 was that Team Obama figured out how to integrate the on- and offline aspects of their campaign into a seamless whole. This allowed them to combine online and real-world actions into a more effective overall message. In particular, the campaign’s ability to collect Big Data and quickly transmit the information to their motivated locals made those volunteers’ efforts even more effective.

While Team Obama’s objectives weren’t particularly revolutionary—get the most votes!—their tactics certainly were. In particular, their dedication to building a grassroots field organization and commitment to investing in data gave them an edge that the GOP simply couldn’t match. It remains to be seen whether this infrastructure will disappear once President Obama leaves office or whether it can successfully be transmitted to another candidate, but either way the lessons learned here will benefit Democratic politicians for many years to come. The GOP has work to do.

Click here for full video of Mr. Bird’s speech, as well as an interesting panel discussion on the future of the Obama coalition.

5 thoughts on “How Team Obama won, according to the former national deputy director of OFA

  1. All this handwringing about the Republican loss overlooks some rather basic facts.

    There is an undiminished Republical majority in the House of Representatives. Not bad for a party that has supposedly become irrelevant.

    An incumbent president almost always as a built-in advantage.

    Romney was not an appealing candidate. I never met anyone who was really excited by him. He was, at best, the lesser of two evils.

    Obama received votes from a great majority of nonwhite people. Had he been white, I doubt he would have won.

    Obama offered incentives to just about every minority subset of his voter base, from giveaways to unions to the promise of amnesty for illegal aliens. Romney was in no position to do this.

    Under the circumstances, it is unsurprising that Romney lost, and probably had very little to do with the actual policies of the candidates, especially since both candidates did everything they could to conceal their real intentions.

    • re: “handwringing”

      well.. I suppose they could just shrug it off and keep on truckin, eh?

      seems like the GOP has all these “great” candidates until it comes time to herd them together to run for President, then it looks like a cross between the Beverley Hillbillies and Road Warrior.

      the problem with the GOP is it’s Jekyll / Hyde persona.

      and the idea that brown-skinned folks would not vote for a white guy? Hispanics liked Bush and Blacks like Clinton so what gives?

      intentions? Obama was damn clear about his I thought.

      He never varied from his “tax the richer” idea… right?

      I think Romney could/would have won if:

      1. – he actually had a budget plan that was legitimate and he was forthright about tax deductions to be capped.

      2. – he disavowed the rampant racism within the ranks of the GOP.

      I simply cannot vote for someone who has a bogus budget plan and won’t step up and disavow racism.

      The GOP seems way too tolerant of bogus budget idea and virulent racism in it’s ranks. When Romney himself was engaging in the birther crap.. he did not look like any President I would admire.

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