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Ground Game, and What to Expect

[Apologies in advance — looks likely to about to pull an epic fail tonight on our most important night. I’ve been clicking publish since before 6pm central on one post, and the rest of the internet is lightning speed. Just looking at results and fruitlessly clicking “publish.” We’re here and trying to publish; just can’t. They can’t handle the traffic. Sorry everybody.]

In our final projection based on all the polling data, we project John McCain to win Indiana by 1.1%.

Today, Brett and I canvassed in Gary, Indiana. We said we weren’t done with Lake County when we did our Tippecanoe County report for our On the Road series. And as we’ve chronicled across the country for the past eight weeks, ground game is important. It’s so important that Barack Obama banked a major portion of his strategy on it. And all campaigns generally do some field work; they wouldn’t do it if it weren’t worth some points.

When one ground game is much, much better than the other candidate’s, it is said, one candidate may gain up to five points against accurate polling. Read that again. Against accurate polling. Accurate polling of voter intention can be superseded when one campaign gets out its vote.

Stage Is Set -

There is no way to integrate superior ground game into a projection. Many have asked, but even a moment thinking about it should reveal that this would be dependent on campaigns offering full disclosure of all their contacts and how made (robocalls are terrible, peer-to-peer is an extremely high quality contact). That will never happen.

So we went out on the road for this very reason. We wanted to deliver to you a high-quality, fact-based assessment of what these campaigns were doing on the ground. For eight weeks, we’ve told you how one campaign (Obama’s) was organizing with a breadth and depth unheard of in presidential politics. And we showed you the empty McCain offices, even as the McCain press flacks tell reporters who haven’t gone out on the trail and seen for themselves that the contact rates are “higher than four years ago.” That’s one of those “lies, damn lies and statistics” comments, where a robocall is equated to a peer-to-peer contact. We flat out didn’t see it.

So all of this is to say, if you start seeing Barack Obama overperform the polling projections in a lot of states, and a state like Indiana potentially flip blue, keep this in mind. Those polls could have been right. And the results could still be different.

[UPDATE]: We’re hearing crazy numbers out of Lake County from some of our sources, things like 197-2 in favor of Obama on some machines.]