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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Will Money Fix the GOP's Ground Game in 2014?

What's the point in winning if YOU lose?

by Andrew Mayersohn on March 25, 2014
According to conventional wisdom, Barack Obama sealed his 2012 victory with superior voter contact efforts. The Obama team's microtargeted ground game set the standard for campaigns everywhere, whereas ORCA, the Romney campaign's GOTV application, famously crashed on election day. Obama's edge in voter contact actually may not have been substantial, but it figured heavily in the GOP's 2012 post-mortem, and the party promised a concerted effort on that front.

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer summed up the new mantra when he declared the party's intent to "engage with voters year round in their communities," even at the expense of big media buys. Some indications of whether that's happened or not lie in 2013 expenditure reports that show how Republican party committees are allocating their resources. Voter contact requires much more manpower than media-heavy campaigning, so if the GOP is serious about field efforts, it should be spending more on personnel.
And that may in fact be happening, according to our comparison of this cycle's data to numbers from the same point in past (non-election year) cycles. In 2009, only 21.6 percent of the Republican Party's spending went into wages, salaries, and benefits; in 2011, that figure rose to 24.3 percent. So far this cycle, it's up to 28.4 percent.

What has shrunk to allow for the growth in personnel costs? The GOP's fundraising budget. In 2013 the party spent 29.9 percent of its money on fundraising -- a drop from 35.2 percent in 2011. Democratic party committees, on the other hand, have cut staff costs since 2011 to devote a larger share of their resources to fundraising, which went from consuming 21.9 percent of the pie in 2011 to 28.7 percent in 2013.  For both parties, fundraising remains the single largest category of spending, since parties typically use off-years furiously harvesting the cash they'll need to compete.

Some caveats apply: Expenditure reports are often vague, and extrapolating strategy from them can be an imprecise endeavor. More money spent on salaries could simply reflect larger salaries for party higher-ups, not an expanded field staff. Moreover, if 2012 was any indication, the amount of money spent by the parties so far will prove to be a small fraction of the final total.

That said, first impressions of the GOP's 2014 strategy from these filings do indicate a greater emphasis on voter contact. Whether that ground game holds up under pressure will be evident in November.