Since most of the recent polls are sampling likely voters, the impact of turning out unlikely voters looms large. The fact that the Obama campaign was able to convince many unlikely voters to participate in the 2008 election makes turnout even more important.
Generally, in recent elections, the presidential candidate that turns out the most members from their own party wins, as the following table demonstrates.
The table shows that the exception to this rule in recent presidential elections was in 2000 when George W. Bush scored a controversial victory over Al Gore. In that election, hanging chads in Florida enabled Bush to barely win the contest.
Bush also won in 2004, a year in which Republicans came out in equal numbers to Democrats. President Barack Obama won by a landslide in 2008, a year that witnessed the highest voter turnout since 1968.
Obama leads among all registered voters
In almost all polls that take into account all registered voters, Obama leads and often by a significant margin. The trend is particularly strong in the battleground states. The polls that are making headlines now are mostly surveying likely voters. Some only show opinions for those who say they are certain to vote.
What we know from 2008 is that the Obama team is capable of registering new voters and of turning out irregular older voters. They do this using a massive ground army combined with excellent planning and organization.
If we look at the available metrics, Obama is doing as good or better as in 2008, and he is beating out the current GOP opposition in 2012:
- Campaign field offices -- Obama has more than twice as many field offices and the disparity is even wider in some important swing states, For example, the Obama team has more than three times as many field offices in Ohio than does the Romney camp.
- Voter registration -- Obama has beat out their highly successful 2008 registration drive even as some states are still accepting new registration forms. Compared to the Republicans in 2012, Democrats lead in voter registration so far in the battlegrounds states of Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Republicans lead only in Colorado and New Hampshire. Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin do not register according to party.
- Non-midterm voters -- In nine battleground states, Democrats exceed Republicans in early votes cast by people who did not vote in the 2010 election. The current lead is 19.7 percentage points.
- Overall early vote -- Among all voters, the Democrats currently maintain a 10.7 point lead. Republicans lead in only two battleground states -- Florida and Colorado -- but those leads should vanish once in-person early voting gets rolling in both states. Additionally, Democrats are doing a better job in beating out Republicans as compared to the statistics from 2008, especially when it comes to absentee/mail ballot requests.
- Crowd size -- Obama still looks to be drawing the larger crowds at rallies although Romney is doing better than he was previously. For example, after the last debate, both candidates appeared in Denver with Obama drawing 16,000 supporters compared to 12,000 for Romney.
- Social media and Internet activity -- Obama is still way ahead in terms of official website activity. In social media, Obama is also well out in front although Romney's team is trying hard to catch up. An ongoing paid ad campaign by Romney on Facebook is beefing up the number of subscribers to his page.
Managing Election Day and long lines
While early voting can account for more than 50 percent of voting in states like Florida, in most areas, Election Day still garners the bulk of total votes.
The Obama campaign must deal with strong official and volunteer efforts to suppress voting in areas that favor the president. Unfortunately, many people procrastinate and wait until after work on Election Day to vote. Lines can get very long in some areas.
According to surveys, about 20 percent of registered people who do not vote claim long lines as their excuse.
The Obama team can try to convince more of these people to vote early or to, at least, vote in the morning or during the lunch break on Election Day. Otherwise, they need to organize at the polling places to make sure that things run smoothly.
Rapid response teams can go to precincts with very long lines and provide relief, entertainment and snacks along with running interference if any "truthers" show up.