News & Politics

Clinton's Massive Advantage on the Ground in Key States

Supporters fill out volunteer forms at a newly-opened organizing office for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the Roselawn neighborhood of Cincinnati , Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The polls may be close in several battleground states, but unless Trump voters motivate themselves to get to the polls on election day, Hillary Clinton will win a comfortable victory.

An analysis by FiveThirtyEight of field offices opened by the two candidates shows Trump lagging far behind Clinton in organizational infrastructure.

In 2016, like in 2012, it is not close. Clinton has nearly three times the number of field offices as Trump nationwide (489 vs. 178), and her organization dominates Trump’s in every battleground state. Clinton’s offices outnumber Trump’s by 19 in New Hampshire, 23 in Iowa and Colorado, and 28 in North Carolina. In the states where Trump has opened the most offices, such as Pennsylvania (35), Florida (21) and Ohio (25), Clinton’s advantage tends to be even larger: She bests him by 22 offices in Pennsylvania, 47 in Florida and 50 in Ohio. Trump’s ground game is far from nonexistent, but his campaign simply does not have the infrastructure to match Clinton’s capabilities for voter contact and mobilization.

North Carolina illustrates the problems with Trump’s field office locations well.

Trump has eight offices in the Tar Heel State. Most are found near population centers that are friendly to Clinton, such as the counties containing Charlotte (which Obama carried with 60.7 percent of the vote in 2012), Asheville (55.3 percent for Obama), and Raleigh (54.9 percent). Clinton’s campaign, on the other hand, has the Democratic-leaning and voter-rich counties containing Durham (75.8 percent for Obama), Fayetteville (59.4 percent) and Greensboro (57.7 percent) to themselves. Romney opened offices in all of these counties in 2012, but Trump is leaving them uncontested on the ground.

The scarceness of Trump’s offices in several of his must-win states, and their unclear focus on his candidacy, cast real doubts on the Republican nominee’s ability to get out the vote. Clinton’s edge in battleground states will allow her campaign to focus on getting her voters to the polls, target those on the fence and find the Democrats in deep-red counties. If Trump’s chances of winning depend upon disaffected rural voters and previously unregistered Republicans, as some have suggested, those voters may need to mobilize and persuade themselves: The campaign simply does not have the organizational scope to reach them.

Trump got a late start and never had a prayer of catching up. As far back as August, Republican campaign pros were sounding the alarm about the glacial pace at which the Trump campaign was organizing nationally. The campaign has done better in the last 45 days (on September 1, Trump had exactly one office in Florida), but as the analysis points out, it’s where those field offices are located that’s important.

Hillary Clinton is concentrating her considerable resources on pulling every possible Democrat vote from deep blue and blue counties in swing states. She is poaching Democrat voters in red counties as well.

Trump doesn’t appear to have much of a plan. If his resources are limited — and at this point, they are — why open an office in a county that went more than 60% for Obama in 2012?

Hillary Clinton is making this a turnout election. Her IT operation has identified supporters and potential supporters. Phone banks are calling these people on a weekly basis. On election day, they will be offered a ride to the polls.

It appears that a similar effort by President Obama in 2012 got him 2.5 to 3 million extra votes. But it was where these votes came from that was decisive. Swing states like Virginia, Colorado, and Florida went Democrat because Obama got more of his supporters to the polls than Romney.

Some key states are very much in play for Donald Trump. But unless he can turn that poll support into real votes by improving his ground game, Clinton will simply out-hustle Trump for the deciding electoral votes.