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Campaign Strategy: A Strategy of a Different Breed

When strategy is discussed—including through the papers found on this site—it is often done so in the context of private businesses and public companies, and how those entities can utilize strategy to enhance their market position. Yet with the Presidential election looming, it is useful to examine another type of strategy that is often less discussed, but which can potentially have more widespread effects: campaign strategy. Perhaps the biggest point of contrast in this year’s election between the two candidates is the role of the federal government in the lives of American people, and, at least on certain issues, the choice posed to the American people is (fairly) clear. But, putting aside the political issues, what about the actual strategies that are being used by each party? Although both sides utilize unique tactics, they both ultimately share many similarities in their path to winning the White House.

Managed by David Plouffe, President Obama’s successful run for the White House in 2008 utilized a data-driven, grassroots effort that relied heavily on social media and the power of technology to distribute political messages. Four years later, the Obama campaign team, now run by Jim Messina, is using the same approach to this election. Messina is determined to actually enhance the effectiveness of this grassroots get out the vote strategy, and in an effort to build upon the successful use of technology in a Presidential election, Messina picked the brains of Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, and Eric Schmidt. As Aamer Madhani points out, Messina “built out a campaign headquarters that resembles a Silicon Valley start-up more than the nerve center of a political campaign”; “there are no cubicles, workspace is organized in teams instead of departments, and (Messina’s) staff includes a number of tech-savvy recruits who don’t have the typical resume of a campaign hand.”

While the Obama campaign is seemingly willing to advertise their get out the vote strategy, the strategy of the Romney team is a bit more clandestine. Russ Schriefer, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney, recently said that “unlike the Obama campaign, we’re not big on outlining our strategy out loud.” Even though part of the Romney campaign strategy is to actually disguise that strategy, what is clear is that the Romney campaign does not rely as heavily on a robust ground force; Obama has over twice as many campaign offices as the Romney team (106 to 49), and the Romney campaign concentrates more on the effectiveness of the volunteers than the quantity of them. This is because, as Sarah Boxer points out, the “Romney staffers…(are) thoroughly unconvinced…that the myriads of OFA [Obama for America] offices and volunteers will do much to convince independent voters to re-elect the president in the fall.” Quality, not quantity, is what matters to the Romney team.

Yet, as is often the case in politics, there are more similarities in the campaign strategies of the two sides than either party may be eager to demonstrate. Take Virginia, a crucial swing state. There, the Romney team is indeed emulating the massive ground force of the Obama campaign, and is in fact trying to exceed it. The Romney campaign is also focused heavily on social media in Virginia, and, as Boxer points out, even boast the same “neighborhood captains” as the Obama team, or actors who lead volunteers in particular areas. In addition, the attack strategies of each side are similar as well: both the Romney and Obama teams are focused on attacking the purported strengths of the opposing candidate. For the Obama campaign, the focus is Romney’s successful and lengthy career in business, and the premise that Romney played a critical role in outsourcing—and therefore destroying—American jobs. The Romney team is also attacking Obama where Democrats are often most proud; Romney’s campaign claims that Obama’s Medicare reform would cut $700 billion in funding for the program, and that Obama took more than his fair share of credit for the elimination of Osama bin Laden.

As of now (the Friday before the election), both sets of strategies appear to be equally effective, as the two candidates are virtually tied in the polls. We are interested in hearing from you: which type of strategy do you think will be most effective, and why? Have you seen the effects of these strategies in your home state?