Transcription – Mark Mellman Interview

Q:                    And did you have state-specific [01:12:00] ads, state-specific ad buys?

MELLMAN:      I believe almost all of our ad buys were state-specific.  Indeed, to the point that we — the Bush campaign had both national cable and specific state buys, and one of the outgrowths of that that we didn’t think about until we got a little warning was that in the State of Hawaii, which is a pretty Democratic state, the Bush ads were showing on cable and we were not.  So, Bush was, like, catching up in Hawaii.  And we did a poll in Hawaii, we found that was the case, we sent somebody — I can’t remember who, but we sent some people to Hawaii.  And it was all fine in the end, but that was just sort of, “Oh, wow, there’s a place where that sort of leakage makes a difference,” as a result of their national cable buy.  But in any event, almost all of our buying, I think, all of it really was state-specific.  Our ads were state-specific.  Now, did we use some ads in different states?  Yes, in — Sorry, did we use the same ad in some different states?  Yes, but we had a lot of [01:13:00] very state-specific advertising and very few ads were used everywhere.  We had state-specific ad teams, so we had a variety of people working on ads, and those people were assigned to specific states and working on those states, and, you know, primarily on those states.  So, the ad buys were done on a state by state basis, the ad design and development was done on a state by state basis, and the polling was done on a state by state basis to support that advertising, the advertising strategy.

Q:                    Did you think that you could win with less than a plurality of popular votes, the way Bush won in 2000?  Had that sort of made it OK to get an electoral vote majority and neglect the national popular vote majority?

MELLMAN:      Well, it’s not a question of being OK, it’s a question of what the Constitution says.  And so, you know, [01:14:00] we’d be delighted to have a popular vote majority, but it wouldn’t matter if we did.  We needed an electoral vote majority.  And so, that’s what we were focused on.  And bringing up that, you know, we could have perhaps gotten a few more popular votes in California, but it wouldn’t have, you know, made John Kerry president.  So, you know, we were focused really in that way.  It wasn’t a question of OK or not; it was the reality.

Q:                    Since the polls most people saw then, you know, sort of pre-Nate Silver, were national polls — Go ahead.

MELLMAN:      And what we were doing was exactly what Nate Silver later did, which was aggregate these polls, both on a national and a state by state basis, both on their own and in the context of this overall simulation model.

Q:                    Did your model have a figure for if we get this percent of the national popular vote, we will have our electoral vote majority?

MELLMAN:      Yes, but the truth is, at that point — it’s changed — but at that point, getting a popular vote, [01:15:00] getting an electoral vote majority actually — the number that guarantees a Democratic electoral vote majority is actually more than 50%.

Q:                    OK.

MELLMAN:      That’s changed, and now it’s the other way around.  We can get a Democratic electoral vote majority by losing the popular vote.  But in 2000, the demographics were such that that wasn’t really possible.

Q:                    How did you think the other side was doing?  I mean, just as a professional, what did you think of the Bush campaign?

MELLMAN:      I thought they did a great job.  (laughter)

Q:                    Did you think that at the time?

MELLMAN:      Oh, yeah, yeah.  (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

Q:                    I know voter turnout overall was up significantly, but they went from 50 million to 59 million votes, from 2000 to 2004.  Did that surprise you?

MELLMAN:      You know, no, not really.  And look, I think this is overdone on the Obama side, too.  The reality is, the programs that people had, [01:16:00] we know now from lots and lots and lots and lots of work, that the maximum impact programs can have, no matter how good, how targeted, how effective, you know, we’re talking about a two or three-point difference in turnout.  And you know, if you look at a place like Ohio, which was a critical place to look at, you know, the Kerry vote increased significantly —

Q:                    Over Gore’s vote?

MELLMAN:      Over Gore’s vote.  And the Bush vote increased significantly.  And there were just more voters for them than there were for us.  That just was the reality.  It wasn’t, you know, yes, if you want to argue from the top down you can say, “Well, yes, there are a lot of people that didn’t vote that were Democrats, and so, therefore we lost it on turnout.”  But the truth is, we — the Kerry campaign — got a lot more of those people to vote than had voted before, and the Obama campaign got even more of them, but there were things they were working with that we weren’t, in turning out some of those folks.  So, [01:17:00] you know, I don’t think that the turnout operations or whatever, you know, made the difference.  We lost Ohio because there were just more people voting for Bush than there were for Kerry, and that just, you know, it’s a fundamental reality.