It is hard to believe that roaming around the streets with campaign literature and knocking on strangers’ doors influences elections, but smart and experienced people have determined that it does.
Below is what my day in Pennsylvania taught me. Some demographics:
Bucks County borders New Jersey and is adjacent to Philadelphia. It is post-industrial and still suffering from the collapse of the steel industry. However, there are plenty of prosperous neighborhoods around, one of which I drew for my canvassing. It was a classic upper-middle-class bedroom community with the ubiquitous SUVs in the driveway and where three-car garages are not unusual. Although the accents and household decorations reflected fairly recent immigration—Polish, Russian, Jewish, Italian, Irish, Greek, even Indian—this was not an ethnic enclave. The only thing these folks have in common is money.
(1) Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. While the Arctic Lady may have energized hardcore Republicans who think McCain is an unreliable conservative, she massacred his strength in the middle range who liked the old, independent McCain. We met two couples who were sympathetic to Geezer but had no use for Winky Babe. Out of 50 households, perhaps a total of 150 votes, swinging four to Obama (or a total of eight) adds up to something like a six-point flip in the most Republican neighborhood within miles. To make up for that she would have to motivate support for the ticket from two or three households that otherwise would have sat it out.
2 There are still plenty of undecideds out there. It’s hard to imagine that people could have lived through the last 18 months and still have no opinion, but it’s not unusual. One gentleman mowing his lawn who lives with three other registered voters said he couldn’t say how they might be leaning because the topic hadn’t come up. My question: what DOES come up around that breakfast table?
3 The Obama camp is highly organized and very excited. When we pulled up in our chartered bus from New York around 10 o’clock, a cheerful mob of 300 people were already in line to get their canvassing packets and instructions. People who had come out to work for Kerry in 2004 said they never saw more than a few dozen at this same headquarters. The difference, I believe, is that these folks are not only appalled at Bush but actually like Obama. The operation was smooth, and the atmosphere light and tight—another contrast from four years ago.
Two anecdotes: one family immediately said we shouldn’t waste our time with them because George Bush had caused them to cease being Republicans. Godspeed.
Another working mother said her husband was a Republican but that she and her daughter had announced that if he planned to continue living there, he’d better vote for Obama. (He will.) Their best friends down the street, who supported Bush twice, are wavering.
Conclusion: I spent hours roaming around what should be one of the friendliest environments in the state for a Republican candidate and was treated with unfailing cordiality. There were plenty of McCain signs in the yards, but nearly as many Obamas. A small but important block of voters is still looking at the issues; several mentioned they were planning to watch the remaining debates.
Thus concludes my civic duty until Nov 4.
[Update] A strange phenomenon has been occurring with the polls: for the second time in a week there is a run-up in Obama’s numbers so huge as to challenge credibility. First it was Quinnipiac giving him a 15-point lead in Pennsylvania, 8 in Florida and 8 in Ohio. Now the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has him up by 55 to 37 in that state, compared to a dead heat a month ago. Cue pundit head-shaking.
There are two possible explanations: either some polls are not done well and are getting extremely inaccurate results, or there is a massive shift in voter sentiment taking place. We shall see!