Obama’s poll spending is obscene

What’s up with all that polling the Obama camp is doing? Recently the folks over at the Weekly Standard combed through campaign spending disclosure records of the Obama campaign and related committees, discovering that they’ve spent $15 million on polling since the first of the year. And some of the June spending is still unaccounted for. Oh, my! From one perspective, spending $15 million on polling reeks of desperation. They are on a massive snipe hunt, trying to evaluate the appeal of every alleged accomplishment of the president and to gauge the credibility of every anti-Romney tidbit their dirt-diggers have dredged up.

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Let’s try to put some metrics to this. Using my own firm’s rate card, $15 million for polls would compute to about 6 million minutes of polling time. Assuming interview lengths of 10 minutes, that’s like 600,000 interviews. More than a half-million times, the Obama campaigners may have approached randomly sampled Americans to see what works and what doesn’t. Honk if you’ve been polled. Out of those many interviews, someone who’s been on the receiving end of a call or online survey needs to share with us what they’re asking. Is it cloying? Is it cunning? Is it crazy? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Of course, “polling” doesn’t necessarily mean one-on-one interviewing. Perhaps as much as a third of the $15 million may have been spent on focus groups and ad testing with dials. Given that the Obama campaign seems to be attempting to “kill the baby in the bassinet,” that is, to attack its opponent before he’s even been nominated, we see well-tested attack ads on Bain and “shipping jobs overseas.” Again, using normal rate cards, I am guessing that upwards of 4,000 Americans have been asked to participate in these test sessions, wherein endless footage of alleged Bain carnage is projected for all to see, perhaps with wires attached to voters’ frontal lobes and pounding chests in an inglorious effort to gauge the passion being generated. Who knows, given the massive expenditure for research, perhaps several thousand respondents had their brains scanned while watching this political porn, discovering exactly which parts of the brain become excited by the confluence of the words “Bain” and “China.” 

Some of you may be saying that spending $15 million is no big deal given that this is a presidential election. You are mistaken. This is an obscene, over-the-top amount of money. Obama faces only about 12 to 15 electorates that are worthy of sampling separately. There is the national electorate, and then there are the individual electorates of swing states, and then there are special targets like his partisan base of Democrats and swing voters like independents. Even if he polled each of these sub-samples every week since the first of the year, he couldn’t come close to accounting for the amount that’s supposedly been spent.

Just by normal ratios or rules of thumb for campaign spending, the research outlays are out of whack. For presidential campaigns, polling should fall into a range of 3 to 4 percent of the total budget. In this case, the percentage is much higher. It is being reported that the Obama campaign has spent $100 million thus far on campaign ads. If they have, in fact, spent $15 million researching those ads, they are genuinely out of control over at the Democratic “research institute” where all this political science is percolating.

It’s interesting to try and follow the money, but it’s also disturbing. Why must Obama spend so much money to find his way? Voters are likely to be turned off to realize that even a teleprompter is not enough for this president. He also needs a phalanx of pollsters to tell him what to say.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.