As has been widely reported, the number of Obama field offices exceeds the number of Romney field offices. To visualize this, Brian Law, a political science Ph.D. student at UCLA, gathered all of the addresses of field offices listed on the Romney and Obama websites (e.g,. here and here). Obama had 786 field offices compared to Romney’s 284 (roughly 2.75 times as many). Here are two maps:
As expected, the number of offices in battleground states outpaces the number in other states. Florida and Ohio account for 235 of Obama’s 786 offices (30%), similarly for Romney (31%). Obama has broader coverage (all 50 states) and outpaces Romney everywhere except Utah and Missouri. Obama also has more offices in battleground states (e.g. Ohio has 131 Obama offices vs. 40 for Romney).
For example, here are maps that Brian made of the field offices in Ohio:
The campaigns clearly differ in the number of field offices and I look forward to potential explanations. Less likely, the Obama website is a more complete record of office locations than the Romney site for some reason. More likely, the Romney folks made a strategic decision to invest less here either because they do not see the same value in having offices given their supporters and resources, or they believe they have other tools to achieve the same ends such as managing volunteers remotely and electronically.
That is consistent with some reporting. Molly Ball notes that the Republican National Committee, which is overseeing Romney’s mobilization efforts as well as those for other Republican candidates, “likes to tout voter contacts, a metric that includes the doors knocked and phone calls made by volunteers”—which is obviously a better metric than field offices alone. Indeed, even the Obama campaign suggests that field offices per se are not the point:
The Obama campaign actually agrees: Real estate isn’t the point. “Our focus is on having a very decentralized, organized operation as close to the precinct level as possible,” Bird said. In addition to all those offices, the campaign operates out of dozens of “staging locations,” many of them the living rooms of neighborhood leaders who have been working with their volunteer teams for a year or more, fanning out into the communities they know firsthand.
“Community organizing is not a turnkey operation,” Bird says. “You can’t throw up some phone banks in late summer and call that organizing. These are teams that know their turfs—the barber shops, the beauty salons; we’ve got congregation captains in churches. These people know their communities. It’s real, deep community organizing in a way we didn’t have time to do in 2008.”
Nevertheless, here is some research demonstrating an association between field offices and election outcomes. Lynn Vavreck and I will be using these and other data from the “ground game” in The Gamble. More to come.