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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

In a controversial move sure to upset millions of people, Barack Obama’s campaign has decided to forgo the traditional time-wasting distribution of chum (yard signs, bumper stickers, etc.) to try and win the election.

Settling on what they call a “get voters to register by approaching them on the phone and at the door with an army of volunteers” strategy, Obama’s senior staff has directed state, regional, and local field organizers to use their finite time to make tangible progress toward winning.

It’s an approach that has ruffled some Democratic feathers.

That got me concerned, and I headed out to the Leesburg, Virginia, Obama office to see about getting myself one, thinking that some visibility for the Democratic ticket on my street was more critical than ever. My neighbors sometimes need “permission” to display their Democratic preferences, even though our Republican friends don’t seem to wait for anyone’s invitation.

Despite Obama’s 100% name recognition, opponents of the “maybe worry about visibility after registration deadlines close” strategy pronounced the situation “dire” on the front page of Daily Kos yesterday.

So dire was the situation that volunteers in the office were taking up collections to have their own signs printed.

Asked about this dire situation in Virginia, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe responded*, “You have got to be $@!#ing kidding me. Is this a joke? I’m busy, I have to go.”

The Obama campaign goal has been to register and track over 300,000 new voters in Virginia, including the direly-situated Leesburg. Though they are on pace to achieve this goal, some Democrats are concerned that people will see more McCain signs and feel dispirited.

Top Obama strategist David Axelrod, when reached for comment Sunday, noted*, “these yard sign questions are making my brain bleed. Please stop.”

Still, concerned Democrats are up in arms.

I need to know what’s up with this. I know a lot of people don’t think yard signs mean anything at all, but where I live, they’re a critical part of the ground game — like I said, giving less political or less outspoken neighbors the permission they need to open up about their support. (emphasis added)

Obama campaign strategists believe that, with their massive months-long, grinding-it-out-every-day registration plan, that 80 percent of those new registrations would vote for Obama, and that 75% of the newly registered voters will turn out. If 75% of an 80-20 split on 300,000 new registrants turns out, that’s Barack Obama adding 135,000 bonus votes to his total in Virginia alone. Organizers in Obama’s Virginia campaign offices have been sternly instructed to focus on those numbers by spending long, exhausting days recruiting volunteers instead of spending their limited time worrying about whether there are enough yard signs to go around.

Still, some concerned Democrats need to know what the heck these guys are thinking, because “feeling good” is really important.

Concernedly, they stress that seeing a yard sign is one way for neighbors to have conversations with one another about politics. Since most people tend to vote or not vote based on visibility peer pressure**, Dems may be in danger of losing the tender flower swing vote to McCain.

In South Carolina’s crushing Obama primary win, there were a measly 1,000 Obama yard signs in the entire state. But asked whether an “up mood” via yard sign is a “critical part of the ground game in Virginia,” National Field Director Temo Figeroa began laughing until the end of time*.

*Note: Made-up quotes. But not inaccurate, wanna wager?
**Note: Absolutely false

*-*

Listen.

Organizers – the people out there killing themselves to win this election – hate yard signs with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

Barack Obama’s organizers hate them. John McCain’s organizers hate them. It’s because yard signs don’t vote – but they do generate a ridiculous amount of complaining that must be patiently listened to. Until yard signs sprout little legs and go to the polls on Election Day, in a presidential election with universal name recognition they are just a nice little decoration.

They’re little feel good things, making you feel like you’re on the team. There is nothing wrong with that – that’s not the objection. The objection is that there is limited time for organizers to accomplish a wide array of prioritized tasks, and in this election they’ve chosen to prioritize identifying, registering, persuading and getting their voters to the polls. Yard signs cut into the organizer’s sleep time – literally.

A lot of people aren’t going to like hearing this truth, but organizers recognize that the majority of people who walk into offices for yard signs are, for volunteering purposes – and this is a technical term – useless. In the majority, these people are not going to knock, they’re not going to make phone calls. Instead, they are going to throw the organizer’s incredibly precious, sleep-deprived time down a bottomless abyss of irretrievability.

People who plant yard signs are maybe going to make their neighbors aware that they support a particular candidate, and in theory, if they live near voters who cede their opinions to peer pressure, they could theoretically be shading the influence of a vote here or there.

Here’s a little secret: there will always be exceptions, but people who spend a lot of time volunteering in campaign offices tend to get yard signs. Organizers know and love these people dearly, and they take care of them.

Every single person pouring real effort into this campaign knows what I’m writing is true. In every office we stop into, we ask both sides about yard signs. It’s unanimous. In good old purple Colorado, in Montezuma County, the Republican women volunteering at the local office pointed out how their signs read, “Paid for by the Montezuma County Republican Party.” They, too, had to generate their own local signs, and have to deal with unhappy people who stop in to get their prize but go away empty handed.

Yes, of course it would be nice to have more yard signs. If organizers had an infinite amount of time, they would be happy to pester their bosses up the ladder to see when they’re coming in. Then they’d love to chat with you about how someone stole or defaced them, and run a bunch of replacements right out.

But in the very purple, exurban Northern Virginia neighborhoods there is a problem. There’s a walk list sitting in a campaign office not being walked and knocked, and a newly-registered voter who projects as .45 of a vote for Obama is not being registered.

That one was for you, Every Organizer in America. Love ya, you magnificent bastards.

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