In fact, because the campaign will likely depend as much on turnout as on the late decisions of undecided voters, these focus groups should be sure to include registered voters weakly committed to one side or the other and unsure if they will vote at all, as well as true undecided voters.
Sure, we often see some of these questions covered in national or even statewide polls, but poll-results stories have little meaning and texture without this kind of personal, qualitative probing. They’re not nearly as interesting, and they tell us little compared with hearing the people who are actually going to decide the country’s path explain their take on all of these issues. In fact, presented with the right production packaging (perhaps splitting it into daily 10- or 15-minute doses over a week or two), this coverage could be downright compelling.
Besides, it’s a good bet that the campaigns themselves are doing exactly this kind of focus group research. Why should they know more than we know?
(Which reminds me: I’d also like to see a story comparing how the two sides’ focus groups of these voters compare. Did they produce the same conclusions that the losing side was just unable to act on effectively? Or did they draw differing conclusions, resulting in the losing side taking some wrong turns? Realistically, it will probably not be until after the election that this view from inside the campaigns’ most protected research is doable.)
b. The ground troops: What do the Romney and Obama troops in the field do all day?
How are they organized and scripted? How does what they say differ, if at all, from what the campaigns would want the rest of us to know they are saying? To what degree, if at all, do their targeted messages become pandering or appeals that would embarrass the national campaign?
How is what they hear fed back to the campaign strategists and to what effect?
What do they get paid, and how are they held accountable for productivity? How important are the unions in providing troops for the Democrats, and how important are business interests in providing people for the Republicans? What about the churches?
c. The money: With campaigns that together will spend in the billions before it’s all over and with so much of it concentrated on a relative sliver of the country, the economic effects on these localities have to be enormous (or, depending on your view of the role of money in politics, obscene).
Can a local car dealer advertise a sale in Toledo, OH, or Jefferson County, CO, on his cable system’s ESPN channel next week, or has he been crowded out of the market?
Which caterers are cashing in?
Is there any evidence yet that Obama’s overall cash-haul shortfall compared with Romney’s is forcing the president’s people to pull back or to pay local bills more slowly?
Which ad from each side has run the most? And how does its run compare with high-dollar marketing for a commercial advertiser? (And can we hear from a credible marketing consultant or academic who has studied the laws of diminishing returns in television advertising?)
Have lawyers been retained, and at what cost, to deal with any Election Day voting fights?
In short, exactly how is all the money being spent? Can we see a pie chart of all the expenses by category?
I like pundit cable chatter as much as any political junkie. But it’s time for Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer and Bret Baier, as well as the folks from Politico and the national newspapers and networks, to do a lot more work out where the real action is. Take us to the front lines, and bring us the real story.