All Politics Is Not Local
Does it matter where candidates campaign?
Posted Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008, at 3:30 PM
Since the primary season ended five months ago, Barack Obama and John McCain have made about 370 campaign stops in 32 states. Their running mates—who started campaigning only about two months ago—have added about 200 stops to that total, and their spouses have stumped slightly more than 100 times.
What does this grueling schedule accomplish? When politicians thunder into town, they hope to attract thousands of people, hundreds of voter commitments, and dozens of headlines. From there, they hope word of mouth trickles across the community, causing voters to consider their candidacy. This is basic American politics in action.
But this election, the positive effects of campaigning are tough to spot. A clean cause-and-effect relationship was always unlikely—let's give the American voter a little credit for not just supporting whoever has swooped into town most recently. But in most cases, it's tough to find any correlation between the number of campaign events and the poll returns. There are a variety of explanations—a national economic crisis, the dwindling power of local news headlines, and the increased emphasis on grass-roots organization, just to name a few. The bottom line: When it comes to the candidates' schedules, this election appears to be much more about national strategy than local appearances.
To determine this, we crunched the data from Slate's Map the Candidates tool, which has been tracking the candidates' public schedules the entire election, including the party primaries. Below, you'll find a map of the Democratic ticket's campaigning vs. the Republican ticket's campaigning since the start of the general election and the differential between the two. In the differential map, Obama's advantage is shaded blue; McCain's is shaded brown. Once you click on the box below, you can roll over the states to see how many more times one ticket has appeared in a state than the other presidential pair.
For a closer look, we've pulled out four states that suggest both the futility and the advantages of extended face time in a state. The number of stops from June 9 through Oct. 28 are listed below each state name.
(Obama 3, Biden 1, Michelle Obama 0; McCain 6, Palin 3, Cindy McCain 0)
In the Hawkeye State, McCain and Palin have tried to make up for lost time. The GOP ticket has made five more stops in the state, primarily because Obama doesn't think he needs to contest it. He leads by 12 points in Pollster.com's average and has never trailed McCain. McCain, though, insists that his internal polls show the state is competitive, and he continues to campaign. The Republican ticket has held four events there this month. The Democrats haven't been there since early September.
During the primaries, McCain barely competed in Iowa's caucus, choosing to focus on New Hampshire instead. Partly as a result, McCain came in fourth. From July 1, 2007, through the caucuses on Jan. 3, 2008, McCain made 63 appearances in the state, compared with Obama's 186 (full tallies here). In Iowa, the candidates' attendance records during the caucus season seem to be more important than their appearances during the general election.
(Obama 9, Biden 7, Michelle Obama 4; McCain 3, Palin 5, Cindy McCain 2)
The McCain campaign didn't see North Carolina coming. Obama and Biden have dominated the Tar Heel state, making twice as many total stops (16) as McCain and Palin (eight). (The 2-1 ratio still holds when spouses are included: The totals become 20 to 10.) After dabbling in the state once in June and once in August, Obama and Biden held a combined four events there in September. Obama made another three appearances before Palin or McCain showed up for the first time in early October. By then, the polls had already turned, and Obama was in the lead. McCain and Palin have made eight stops there this month, which seems to have stopped Obama's surge, but they haven't picked up any ground. Obama leads McCain by two points.
(Obama 16, Biden 9, Michelle Obama 3; McCain 21, Palin 14, Cindy McCain 12)
Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.