You've probably received an invitation for the chance to join Mitt Romney for a burger over lunch in your inbox. Or perhaps there's an email from President Barack Obama, encouraging you to have dinner at the White House for $3. And Obama added some Hollywood guests to the small donor lottery meal. In both cases, all you have to do is donate a relatively small amount to the campaign to be included in such a lottery.
It may seem like a silly idea all around. After all, your odds of getting the lucky meal are pretty long. And by asking for so little, campaigns only appear to rake in very little money in the process. Wouldn't television ads reach more people? And shouldn't campaigns ask for the max? So why are presidential candidates offering these? And why are eager contributors buying in?
To use a football analogy, campaigns are trying to develop a good ground game (recruiting donors and volunteers), instead of relying entirely on aerial attacks (television ads). It's a tactic employed by Henry V in the Shakespearean play and Napoleon before the Battle of Rivoli in Italy. Meeting with a few bands of soldiers, rather than trying to talk to thousands en masse can work just as well, along with providing that personal touch, as word spreads of the leader's personal touch. Many television viewers go out of their way to skip political ads.
Think about images from prior successful elections: Lincoln-Douglas debates, William McKinley's front porch campaign, and Harry Truman's "Whistle Stop" tour. Those events took on a mythic life of their own, even if only a fraction of people saw them.
But does building that personal connection work in today's elections? Evidence from the 2008 election indicates that this was the case. Barack Obama was able to beat Hillary Clinton because she maxed out her donors early, hoping for an initial knock-out punch. By not tapping out his donors and asking for just a little, he could keep fundraising throughout the cycle from the same loyal donors who only gave a little, while she had to hunt for new donors.
It was even more pronounced in the 2008 general election, according to CNN exit polls. Obama handily won those voters personally contacted by his campaign (64 percent-34 percent). McCain, of course, won those his team personally reached out to by a similar margin (60 percent-38 percent). The difference was that 26 percent of voters were contacted by Team Obama, while only 18 percent were reached by the McCain-Palin campaign.
Furthermore, among those contacted by only one side, Obama's total (13 percent) was double that of McCain's (6 percent). A voter contacted by both sides was slightly more likely to pick McCain, while among those with no contact, they broke slightly for Obama, so the personal touch was the difference.
It looks as though Romney's folks are borrowing a page from the Obama playbook on this, which could lead to a tighter race in 2012.
- Politics & Government
- President Barack Obama