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Exit poll of early voters shows Clinton's huge ground game advantage over Trump

Hillary Clinton Staff Members And Volunteers Work In Their Vegas Campaign Office
Hillary Clinton staff members and volunteers work in their Vegas campaign office
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s campaign contacted twice as many American voters as Donald Trump’s campaign this election cycle, according to new exit polling from Morning Consult — a symptom of the Trump campaign’s dismal attempt to salvage a lagging Republican ground game operation.

According to a survey of nearly 10,000 voters from October 18 through Election Day, 29 percent of Democrats said they were contacted by Clinton’s campaign, while only 16 percent of Republicans said they were contacted by the Trump campaign. Independents also heard from Clinton’s campaign twice as much as Trump’s campaign — 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Twelve percent heard from both sides of the aisle.

Back in September, when the presidential race looked suddenly closer, Trump’s then-newly appointed campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, expressed her commitment to revamping the Republican nominee’s get-out-the-vote operation.

"We've got to invest in the fundamentals. ... Do I wish these things had been done before? Sure. But we're trying to accelerate it, and not abandon it," she said, according to CNN.

The Morning Consult survey reveals that Trump’s campaign wasn’t able to catch up.

The new numbers show Clinton had a substantial advantage in contacting young voters — contacting 28 percent — and nonwhite voters, reaching out to 37 percent of black voters and 31 percent of Latino voters. Comparatively, Trump only reached out to 3 percent of black voters and 9 percent of Latino voters.

“The only age group Trump’s campaign made contact with as much as Clinton’s were voters aged 65 or older,” the poll said. Even among white voters, Clinton’s campaign edged out Trump’s by 3 points, contacting 11 percent of the base.

It’s clear that even if the Trump campaign built up its operation since September, irrefutably Clinton’s campaign invested more resources and for much longer — which could make a difference in a tight race.

Republicans are behind in ground game, and Trump didn’t help the situation

It’s important to note that Trump himself was not singlehandedly the downfall of the Republican Party’s ground game operation.

As my colleague Dara Lind reported, compared with President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and John McCain didn’t fare too well in ground game either:

Clinton may have a 2.1-to-1 field office advantage over Trump, but Obama had a 2.8-to-1 field office advantage over Romney. According to NBC News, the 6-to-1 advantage in paid campaign staff Clinton held over Trump as of the end of August was “not dissimilar” to the gap between Obama and Romney in 2012.

But according to Morning Consult’s report, the gap widened even further this year.

Ground game takes a lot of time and resources — you can’t just put it together at the last minute

This is not too surprising. “One thing that is a little bit overlooked is the extent to which building a good ground game relies on years of investment, in staff but also in technology: building voter databases and interfaces, and making them useful in the field,” Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the author of Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns, a study of the resurgence of ground game in American politics, told me in September.

Of course, it helped Clinton’s campaign that she was the incumbent party’s nominee and one the Democratic Party could prepare for. George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2004 had well-run ground game partly because the party knew who the candidate was going to be and could fundraise accordingly. Trump, on the other hand, was a surprise pick — and not wholeheartedly welcomed by the GOP. But according to Nielsen, that only strengthens the case that Trump should have been prioritizing ground game, instead of relying on the Republican Party.

“It’s just clear not only that the Democratic Party was ahead of the Republican Party in 2012 but also that the ability of the Republican Party to narrow that gap or to overcome that gap has been significantly undermined by the fact that the party nominee has not prioritized investing and catching up here,” Nielsen said. “There is an important question of whether the Republican Party is falling even further behind in having an effective infrastructure for an effective ground game and a competitive ground game.”


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