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Obama’s victory, Romney’s loss and union lessons

by Jonathan Tasini

 

Since there is no money in being right about the election, pardon me while I strut for just a few hours, having nailed on the nose the exact electoral count weeks before and in a previous article for Equal Times (Florida is going to end up in Obama’s column—the remaining votes are from heavily Democratic areas).

But moving quickly on to an important lesson, because bragging only carries you as far as the first yawn from a friend, there is a lesson to consider.

There were a whole raft of reasons for Obama’s victory, which I wrote about over the course of the election: Romney was a mediocre candidate; the Latino vote (a long-term problem for the white Republican Party) mattered; and, yes, I’d give a bit to Hurricane Sandy largely because it reminded people why government is a good thing.

But the bottom line—the difference in all the states but especially Ohio, Florida and Virgina—was the field operation.

While Romney was fighting to fend off the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Obama’s folks were winning the campaign.

I can’t tell if it was stupidity or envy that drove Republicans to publicly dismiss the huge disparity between the on-the-ground presence of the respective campaigns.

Transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”) never understood the critical importance of field offices because most of them have never worked in a campaign and they’d rather be led around by the nose by the campaign to staged events, or read easily packaged information.

But, look at this list of field offices by state, which I posted two weeks ago:

Ohio – Obama 137, Romney 39

Nevada – Obama 27, Romney 12

Iowa – Obama 68, Romney 14

Florida – Obama 106, Romney 52

Virginia – Obama 63, Romney 32

Colorado – Obama 65, Romney 14

Wisconsin – Obama 39, Romney 24

North Carolina – Obama 55, Romney 24

New Hampshire: Obama 24, Romney 9

These are offices that send out volunteers and staff to knock on doors, walk the streets and make calls to voters.

They did that over many months. In Ohio, the edge was more than 3-1; in Florida 2-1.

US unions were critical to the ground operation.

Ironically, the Supreme Court decision (known as Citizens United), which raised the level of legalised corruption to a new level, also had an unintended positive effect.

While right-wing billionaires could spend endless amounts of money on behalf of Romney, unions were allowed, for the first time, to communicate with non-union members; previously, unions could only spend money on communicating with union members.

So, rather than walking down a street and having to skip homes, a union political operative could knock on every door on the block.

When I looked at the numbers of field offices, it persuaded me, along with other data (certainly, a tip of the hat to polling blogger Nate Silver) that Obama was going to win almost every battle ground state (except North Carolina, which still seemed to me to be too Republican – in 2008, Obama barely won the state).

At the end of the day, after all the advertising noise and other optics, someone is more likely to vote, and vote for your candidate, if you shook their hand or spoke to the person on the phone.

People do thirst for personal contact, to feel there is some humanity behind the billion-dollar election machine, most of which they experience on television.

As a one-time candidate, I can’t tell you how many times you will hear, “well, you took the time so you’ve got my vote”.

That’s the best lesson from Election Day 2012.

It’s something worth remembering as an important lesson for the union movement throughout the globe.

No question that unions have to use new techniques, from communications to capital strategies.

But, we must remember that people join movements because they are touched directly by other people.

It’s the advantage we have over corporate power. We are, after all, a peoples’ movement.

 

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