People, stop getting depressed by polls – ESPECIALLY by those purportedly based on “likely voters.” It's way too early to measure "likely voters," and in this election, it's way too problematic to measure them even the day before election day.
If you measure the people who reliably go out and vote in every election, yeah, McCain is probably significantly ahead. It pains me to say that, because I'm pretty sure that I've never missed an election since I first became eligible to vote in 1970. But the people who go out and vote EVERY TIME tend to be people who are pretty comfortable and pretty Republican.
Let me tell you about the Iowa caucus site I attended back on a cold January night after spending the previous month canvassing in that and an adjoining county. It was a rural precinct (not the county seat) in a rural county. We knew we weren't going to win there, but we'd gotten a lot of positive feedback, and hoped to come in relatively close to whoever won (which was clearly going to be Edwards or Hillary Clinton).
Thirty minutes before registration for the caucus closed, Hillary had a huge crowd of supporters. Edwards was a somewhat distant second, with people coming in on a fairly regular basis. We were a pathetically distant third, with a tiny group of dedicated supporters and a huge pile of cookies baked by our precinct captain's teenage daughter, who thought this was SOMETHING she could do for the candidate she supported, since she wasn't old enough to vote. It looked like we were bordering on not even being viable in that precinct.
At about this point, both I (a volunteer from Maryland who had grown up in the Midwest and have relatives in Iowa, but who hadn't spent a LOT of time there as an adult until the previous month) and our precinct captain were feeling increasingly desperate and hopeless. So the precinct captain began inquiring of the people in line to register to vote, or simply to register for the caucus, who they were supporting. Overwhelmingly, they were Obama supporters (especially among those registering to vote for the first time). At the end of the evening, we were a very close third in the raw numbers of attendees at that precinct caucus, and tied Hillary for second place in delegates to the county convention, a single delegate behind Edwards (and passed her when virtually all of the Edwards delegates came over to Obama after Edwards dropped out), which was actually better than we'd expected to do in that precinct. It turned out that the Obama supporters were largely younger, had jobs and young kids that they had to get fed and turned over to a baby sitter, and were therefore later in getting to the polls than the Edwards and (especially) Clinton supporters.
THE GROUND GAME HAD PRODUCED! What we absolutely MUST do is to stop being depressed by polls, and GET TO WORK!!!! What do I mean by getting to work?
For one, while there’s still time, REGISTER VOTERS! I’ve personally registered over 200 voters in this election cycle, and I’ve done it really in only a few days. It’s EASY. Go to high schools and colleges in your area (after learning the procedures for registering voters in your area and complying with whatever the requirements are) and register students. They’re overwhelmingly for Obama, and they’re NOT generally counted as “likely voters” (and won’t be able to vote at all if they don’t get registered). Participate in voter registration drives in areas where large numbers of people tend not to be registered to vote already. There is astounding under-registration in areas with a predominantly minority population, in part because people in those communities tend to move frequently, in part because there’s a tradition of feeling that the political process is hopeless, and in part because of a deeply-entrenched feeling that they CAN’T vote because of drug convictions in their past (in many states, former felons – a category that includes many relatively minor drug offenders – were previously prohibited from voting, but can now do so).
Registering voters is the single most rewarding political activity I have ever engaged in. In this election cycle, I registered 18 year olds (and some 17 year-olds who would be 18 by general election day), I registered people who had moved, and I registered one brand new citizen who was an immigrant from West Africa. This last guy I literally met on the street in Harrisburg, PA when I was going door-to-door. There was some language barrier, since he was originally from a French-speaking area of West Africa, and I was concerned that he was really a citizen – but not for long. He explained, “Yes, I swore allegiance to this country. I swore it on [I don’t remember the date]. I love it here. They told me I was now a U.S. citizen, but now I feel like a real American, since I can vote.” And no matter how much the right tells us that REAL Americans are people who look like those of us whose ancestors have been here for a long time and came here from Europe, many of those recent immigrant embody the real promise that attracted our own ancestors from Germany, or Italy, or Eastern Europe – and they’re overwhelmingly Obama supporters
Registering voters can also be frustrating. On the last day of voter registration in PA, I was talking to a guy who refused to register because he’d had an old felony conviction (for a drug offense), and was convinced both that he couldn’t legally vote in PA (which he couldn’t when he was released, but now can), and that he’d go back to prison if he even TRIED to register to vote. And as he said, “There’s NOBODY who could convince me to do anything to risk that!” He told me he’d register if I could show him a copy of the Pennsylvania law saying he wouldn’t go back to prison for doing so, which I unfortunately didn’t have with me and couldn’t get to him before the primary registration deadline. Folks, there are MILLIONS of potential voters out there like this guy, who are legally entitled to vote, but aren’t registered because they think they CAN’T legally vote. I’m convinced that for every voter the Republicans remove because of their voter “caging” efforts, there are several potential voters we miss because of inadequate voter registration efforts.
Once we get the voters registered, our task has only begun. We’ve got to GET THEM TO THE POLLS. We need to identify voters who need help getting to the polls, and we’ve got to get them there. We’ve got to identify voters who are our supporters, but who haven’t voted yet on Election Day, and we’ve got to get them to the polls.
Do you think Election Day door-knocking doesn’t accomplish anything? On Primary Day, I was knocking on doors in West Philadelphia about an hour before the polls closed. I knocked on a door in which four voters were listed. A middle-aged man told me that everybody there supported Obama, that he and his wife had already voted, but that his elderly mother and his 21 year old son didn’t think it was important enough to bother, even though he’d offered to drive them to the polls.. I told him, “Please give them a message for me: Tell them that there’s a guy at your door who thinks this election is important enough that he drove up from Baltimore to spend all of last weekend and the last two days working to get Barack Obama elected, and who’ll be really disappointed if they don’t even think it’s important enough to let you drive them a few blocks to the polling place.” He said he’d relay my message. Several minutes later, I see the entire family, with his wife and son helping the elderly grandmother down the steps. The middle-aged man pointed to them and gave me a thumbs-up sign, and honked as he drove past me on the way to the polls. It was only two voters, but if every Obama supporter in this country convinced even ONE other person to vote for Obama who otherwise wouldn’t vote or would vote Republican, we’d win this thing in a landslide.
So let’s quite whining and GET TO WORK!