Political Animal


October 24, 2012 4:13 PM The Sporadics

By Ed Kilgore

Mark Halperin of Time sometimes epitomizes the things that make me crazy about the MSM; he was, after all, founder of The Note back when it defined the self-referential Beltway CW, and was co-author of Game Change, whose very title reflected the view that the sort of things that matter to Mark Halperin actually control the outcome of major elections.

But Halperin is certainly big-time enough that he can get access to people inside presidential campaigns who don’t talk to many folk, and his piece on conversations with the Obama campaign has some interesting nuggets, even if you think “Chicago” felt no compunction to tell him the truth. Here’s the key segment:

Said one senior official: “[T]he most important thing about early vote is one thing and one thing only: are you getting your sporadic voters to vote? Because if it’s just chasing people who are going to vote anyway than it’s just…a zero sum game. But all the data I see says we are getting our sporadics to vote at a higher rate than they are, which, especially for any Democratic candidate, is a bigger challenge because we have lower propensity voters. That’s exactly what we are doing and we feel great about that.”
[Jim] Messina claims that in the battleground states, “two-thirds of those who have already voted are women, youth, African Americans or Latinos,” who are, of course, giving a large percentage of their support to the incumbent.

Sporadics, marginals, low-propensity voters: these are all terms for non-likely-voters who wind up voting. If you do an unusually good job at turning them out, it will indeed change the shape of the electorate in ways that many polls may not catch (at least until very late). And if you turn them out early, as “Chicago” is claiming is already happening, then you have a lot more tactical flexibility to deploy resources the rest of the way. To put it another way, it’s not just a matter of estimating Ds versus Rs in the early vote, it also involves which Ds and Rs turn out, and the best way to measure (if you can) that is by race, gender and age as compared to historical patterns.

It sounds to me like “Chicago” is looking at the final phase of the campaign in an entirely sensible way that doesn’t depend on a lot of mumbo-jumbo about “enthusiasm” or “momentum,” or put undue weight on undecideds. As to whether the Obama campaign (or for that matter, the opposition) is actually hitting its marks—well, I doubt they’d feel Mark Halperin should be the first to know.

UPDATE: Speaking of Time, new poll shows Obama winning early voters in Ohio by two-to-one margin at the moment. Very good sign for the president, particularly if a big chunk of these votes are indeed from “sporadics.” A quick look at the poll indicates a slightly disproportionate percentage of people who have already voted are nonwhite and/or under 40.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Napoleon on October 24, 2012 4:36 PM:

    For those of you not in a battleground state (I am in Ohio) this was my experiance with the Obama campaign. I applied for absentee ballot and a few days later recieve an email at work from the campaign that my ballot had been mailed (I truely am not quite sure how they had my work e-mail in their database). About a week later I get another e-mail asking if I had recieved it and if not they could assist in following up with the BOE. around a week later they e-mail asking if I had returned it. If my experiance is anything like how they typically keep track they may internally have a very good idea on where they now stand in Ohio and what it means for the outcome in 13 days.

  • Kevin Farrell on October 24, 2012 4:36 PM:

    Or in other words:

    This is how we turn the RV's to LV's and outperform the polling averages

  • c u n d gulag on October 24, 2012 4:47 PM:

    In 2008, in NC, we had extended voting, which I believe helped candidate Obama.

    Here, now in NY state, we have to vote on Tuesday, 11/6.
    Now, thankfully, NY is solidly blue as far as the Presidential election is concerned, so there's no worries there.
    However, in Congressional races, having extended hours could make a difference.

    I really don't understand why we have to have election campaigns that last for years and years and years and years, and in too many states, we make people vote on one day.

  • Samuel Knight on October 24, 2012 4:49 PM:

    Psychologically the "close race" narrative is helping the campaign get out early voters. Because the campaign knows that they have 4 big advantages:
    1) Women - and dumb Senate comments will help.
    2) Commander in Chief - when you blow out in a big debate and the other side tries to desperately to ignore it - you know it's big.
    3) Latinos - hard to poll and massively supporting the President - and a Florida, Nevada, Colorado have high numbers - and they could also tip Virginia.
    4) The Midwest - Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio. Hold those and you're at 271

  • daveminnj on October 24, 2012 4:56 PM:

    nevertheless, f*** halperin in the ear with a blowtorch.
    he is a loathsome toad.

  • Peter C on October 24, 2012 4:58 PM:

    My daughter (who is 19 and voting for the first time) goes to college in Ohio. She and her 5 dorm-mates all voted yesterday. I'm trying to get my mom to vote early too, but she's resistant.

    I don't think any of them likely qualify as 'sporatic', but at least they will not be victim to intentionally long lines or stupid ID challenges at the last minute.

  • KK on October 24, 2012 4:58 PM:


  • Hue and Cry/worn out on October 24, 2012 5:08 PM:

    Sitting comfortably each morning on Morning Joe's program has cost Mark Halperin his independent thought process as to campaign journalism.
    With his routine cushy gig there, he is compromised by pleasing the oft-irritable Joe Scarborough-- versus reporting the truth. Halperin has made outrageously biased statements.
    It has worsened since the presidential election has neared.... just like Fox News.
    Mark Halperin just made the comment this week on Morning Joe in response to co-host Mika Brzezinski that it was all right for Romney to spin the truth and deceive voters, stating that wasn't important in the least, because Romney's goal was to appear presidential in the third debate, and Halperin smugly claimed Romney successfully did that. The men on the panel indicated agreement.
    Halperin compromises his journalistic integrity as he spins for Republicans, using the forums of MSNBC, and has been part of the set and the furniture on the Morning Joe program Mondays through Fridays.
    He is a mainstay there. Panelists Mike Barnicle and Willie Geist have succombed and similarly have lost their more moderate leanings.
    I guess to keep the gig you must spin Republican. Joe demands congruence. As he did today with the editor of the New Yorker Magazine which endorsed President Obama.
    Twice recently we called MSNBC and complained about biased campaign reporting and also contacted the station by email.
    Halperin was absurdly dismissive of women's concerns about Romney's binders full of women, out-of-touch comments and not endorsing equal pay. Joining Joe Scarborough, Halperin made the statement that none of that matters, it is small stuff not to be discussed.
    I trust nothing Halperin says.
    My impression is John Heilemann, co-author of their book Game Change, has been hanging out less with Halperin and Scarborough, and going on the more balanced MSNBC programs later in the day.
    Yeah, I tune in early to Morning Joe and monitor the propaganda, switching to Current TV and to Soledad O'Brien for relief.
    I just located and contacted a newspaper in my state that falsely said that voters needed to present an ID with an expiration date in order to vote.
    Doin' my part.
    Wears me out, all this monitoring.
    Thanks, Ed, for all you do.
    Your posting is absolutely prolific and maintained!!

  • IOKIYAR(ight-wing) on October 24, 2012 6:45 PM:


    Mark Halperin is a right-wing troll, always has been, and it's one of the things that make _me_ crazy that people don't see his smarmy fluffing of right-wing nonsense for what it is: Detestable.

  • Varecia on October 24, 2012 7:03 PM:

    Napoleon, that's how it was in 2008 as well. : )

  • zandru on October 24, 2012 8:04 PM:

    On Early Voting

    It makes sense to vote as soon as you get around to deciding what/who you will be voting for, instead of waiting until the last minute: that is, Election Day. When they move your polling place and don't let you know where it is. When the ballots run out.

    When the lines are so-o-o-o long, and you really don't have all day. When the machines conveniently break down. When the line doesn't move at all, because some Tea-bagger is demanding to see everyone's passport and birth certificate (ladies, you'll need all your marriage licenses, too!)

    When the boss declares an emergency, and nobody gets to leave to vote. When public transit is inexplicably shut down.

    Vote early, and skip the dirty tricks and the tricksters who perform them!

  • David Martin on October 24, 2012 8:53 PM:

    The Obama campaign is urging early voting nationwide. If Ohio's early voting is going heavily for Obama, that's a sign that the strategy may be working in places like Florida.

  • Terry Ott on October 25, 2012 2:38 AM:

    My take on it. The closer you are toward the middle of the political spectrum, and those on the right side of it, tend not to vote until election day, except of more and more of them who (where permissible) get an absentee ballot. Here, that simply means you request one (via a form that's on line), not that you are going to be away on election day.

    Living downtown, I can observe activity when I'm out on the street. In the early voter "window" there always are people being brought to the City Hall election office near my condo by vans, SUVs, large cars, etc.

    I think it's kind of premature to make much of this activity. If it's strong, so be it. But I'd not discount the idea that many GOP and independent voters, otherwise kind of blase, will turn out on election day, especially in the battleground and swing states. My sense is that it will be enormous. Don't know of anyone who is even considering sitting this one out.