Having analyzed Federal Election Commission filings for both campaigns, Politico.com says that Hillary Clinton’s machine “looks like a well-oiled juggernaut next to Donald Trump’s vastly smaller, self-funded operation.”
Clinton isn’t simply spending more money to no effect, either. Her campaign staff is ten times larger than Trump’s because they do a lot more ‘get out the vote’ (GOTV) activity.
The Clinton campaign has “a massive head start over Trump when it come to analytics, polling and building models of likely voters and turnout plans,” according to Politico writers Kenneth Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf.
It’s exactly the sort of campaign infrastructure that James Carville, the Democratic strategist who famously managed Bill Clinton’s electoral victories, said would be the future shape of every campaign.
Every campaign except Trump’s, apparently, because the reality show star has decided he knows better than the pollsters or the experienced political hands. Rejecting the chance to make a general election ‘pivot,’ Trump has instead decided to keep holding rallies until November and leave voter targeting to the national Republican Party.
While his boisterous crowds usually provide exactly the sort of professional wrestling-style optics that he prefers, Trump is playing right into Democrats’ greatest strength by disdaining modern campaign techniques this way.
Ironically, we have a preview of how this works out electorally in the Democratic nomination contest.
Although she rarely holds massive rallies like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton has nevertheless built up large leads in aggregate votes and pledged delegates through proven GOTV techniques.
Meanwhile, Sanders has spent more money than any other candidate this cycle — more than $206 million, according to Politico — with a very large chunk of that cash being used to rent venues, print signs, etc., rather than motivate people to the voting booth.
If big crowds meant big wins at the polls, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and former Texas Rep. Ron Paul would both be president. But election after election, crowd size has been an unreliable predictor of winning.
“The people at the rally are not a random or representative sample of the electorate,” says Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science and communication studies at University of California, Los Angeles. “These are strategic and well-planned events. This isn’t just happening.”
In short, big rallies make a candidate look popular, but they’re not actually a good way to win the popular vote.
To be sure, it’s not impossible for the Clinton team to lose a general election race against Trump. But right now, they are quite content to let him keep fretting over his rallies while they focus on turning out actual voters, especially voters of color, and it’s not hard to see why they feel good about that.
Trump’s narrow path to the presidency relies on winning white voters in greater numbers than ever before — a nearly impossible feat, given his extremely low favorability numbers with white females — and also requires a large number of Latinos and African Americans to break with the Democrats this year, which seems rather improbable in light of his constant attacks on immigrants and minorities.
Donald Trump begins the general election season as the most unpopular major party candidate in the history of modern polling — a fact which probably explains why he prefers to ignore hard data and hold another rally with cheering fans. He confuses the ego-boost with actual electability.