As Mike LaFontaine would ask, wha’ happened? From what I saw on the ground, I think the best explanation is Josh Patashnik’s “Hillary as Martin Prince” theory. As all loyal Simpsons viewers know, the side-story in “Lisa’s Substitute” (easily one of my favorite episodes, which is saying a lot) was the race between Bart and Martin for 4th grade class president. Bart’s platform (“more asbestos! more asbestos!”) was decidedly more popular among the class than Martin’s (“I would demand a science-fiction library… Asimov, Bester, Clarke!”), but because the class assumed he would win in a landslide, the only people who ended up voting were Martin and his best friend Wendell, leading Martin to win the election with 100% of the vote.
And when I was canvassing and phone banking for the past few days, I noticed this exact phenomenon happening to Obama. We were calling more or less every single registered Democrat or independent, and a lot of the independents starting saying they’d vote for McCain. They loved Obama, they’d explain to me, and wanted him to win, but they figured the Republican race would be closer so they would vote there instead. And it wasn’t just McCain. A lot of people who were previously undecided said they’d vote for Edwards, not because they thought he’d win, or even because they thought he was the best candidate, but because they wanted him to place second to Obama. I tried to talk them out of it, I really did, but when every poll in existence is saying that Obama’s ahead by ten or twelve points it’s hard to convince people that we need their vote. In a way, it’s the anthropologist’s problem writ large. Just as an anthropologist, by the very act of observing his subjects, affects their behavior, the pollsters, by releasing their numbers, changed the election results.
The Bradley effect has been brought up again and again, but I think that’s bull. I didn’t notice it canvassing or calling, but then again, by its very nature, the effect can’t be observed by campaigners calling voters (if they lied to pollsters, they lied to us). However, like Ben Smith, I think the gender gap among white voters and the accuracy of the exit polls shows that the poll-results disparity wasn’t affected all that much by racism.
So, is it over? Of course not. Obama’s got UNITE HERE and SEIU locked up in Nevada, which should give him a definite boost, and probably a victory, there. They haven’t been updated since yesterday, obviously, but the polls out of South Carolina suggest that Obama is far ahead there. The Iowa victory seems to have convinced black voters there that he can win; 51% of Democratic primary-goers there are black, and Obama leads with them by 69% to 23%, a margin it’ll be hard for Hillary to overcome. And as David Plouffe says, Obama’s organization in the February 5th states easily trumps Hillary’s. At this point, it seems likely that Obama will go into February 5th with wins in Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina behind his belt and a killer organization in hand; he’s not guaranteed the nomination by any means, but he’s still got the upper hand.
But while the primary campaign itself isn’t over, it is over for me. I signed up to volunteer for the Obama campaign the day he announced, February 10th, last year. I went to the Manchester office opening on March 15th, and did my first canvass on May 19th. Since then, I’ve worked non-stop, canvassing every Saturday, calling every Monday, interning all-day every day for July and August, and spending my winter break (and a little bit of skipped school) doing get-out-the-vote. The New Hampshire campaign was a major part of my life for months and months, and it’s more than a little sad now that it’s over.
Most of all, I’ll miss the staff. First in Manchester, and from August onward in Lebanon, it’s been my pleasure to get to know many of the over 100 staffers working here. These people worked from 9AM to 9PM seven days a week, on little pay and even less sleep. And they did it with a smile, and energy, and passion. They were among the kindest and smartest people I’ve ever met.
My favorite month of the campaign, by far, was August, when I was working in the Lebanon office. Except that it wasn’t an office. It was a house, rented out by the three local Obama staffers (hi Lauren, Dave, and Alex!). I commuted to that house/office (or hoffice, as we affectionately referred to it), more or less every day that month. And the amazing thing is, I didn’t get sick of it. Indeed, I relished going into the office, even though it meant calling voters who’d yell at me and tell me to not call them at dinner time, or hearing people complain about Obama’s Pakistan speech. Sure, working for the best candidate in the race was a good reward, but more than anything Lauren, Dave, and Alex are just plain awesome people. I kept working with them once we got an actual office up and running in September, and on through the election yesterday. And today, cleaning out that office before the lease on it expires tomorrow, I couldn’t help but get a little misty-eyed that they’re leaving. They’re on to the February 5th states, and I wish them the best; they’re killer organizers, and got Obama landslide victories in Hanover, Lebanon, and Lyme. They’ll do wonders in whatever state they’re assigned to. But I’ll miss them. So good luck, guys. Let’s win this thing.