The Romney campaign is expanding ad buys beyond the battleground states. Is there a huge swell of enthusiasm so Romney is trying for a blowout or is it a bluff?
The traditional model of political advertizing is the Blotto game. Each candidate can divide up a budget across n states. Each candidate’s probability of winning at a location is increasing in his expenditure and decreasing in the other’s. These models are hard to solve for explicitly. What makes this election unusual is that the usual binding constraint – money – is slack in the battleground states. Instead, full employment of TV ad time and voter exhaustion with ads makes further expenditure unnecessary. But, you can still spend the money on improving your get-out-the-vote operation or to expand your ad buy to other states. Finally, you can send your candidate to a state. Your strategy varies as function of how close the race is.
If the battleground states are increasingly unlikely to be in your column, then a get out the vote strategy will not be enough to tip them back in your favor. Better to try to make some other state close by advertizing and mobilizing there. You must maintain your ad buy though in the battleground states to keep your competitor engaged so that they cannot divert resources themselves.
If the battleground states are close, then a get out the vote operation is quite useful even if ad spending is at its maximum. Better to do that than spend money in other locations where you are way behind.
If you are far ahead in the battleground states, you have to keep on spending there as your competitor is spending there either because he might win or to keep you spending there. But, cash you have sloshing around should be spent “expanding the map”. This gives you more paths to victory and also exerts a negative externality on your opponent, forcing him to divert resources including perhaps the most valuable resource of all, the candidate’s time.
So, you might spend heavily in a state even when you have little chance there. This always has the benefit of diverting your opponent’s attention. This means there is an incentive for a player to invest even if he is far ahead in the battleground states. But there is also an incentive to invest when you are behind as you need more paths to victory and expenditure on getting out the vote is less useful. So, we can’t infer Romentum from the fact that Romney is advertizing in MN and PA.
I think we can make stronger inferences by making a leap of faith and extrapolating this intuition to a state by state analysis. By comparing strategies with public polls, we can try to classify them into the three categories.
NC seems to fall into the first category for President Obama. Romney is ahead according to the polls but it gives the Obama campaign more ways to win and keeps the Romney resources stretched. Romney is roughly as far behind in MI, MN and PA as Obama is in NC. So, they play the same role for Romney as NC does for Obama. Bill Clinton and Joe Biden are campaigning in PA and MN so the Romney strategy has succeeded in diverting resources.
The most scarce resource is candidate time so we can infer a lot from the candidate recent travel and their travel plans. If the race is close in any states it would be crazy to try a diversion strategy as a candidate visit acts like a get out the vote strategy and hence has great benefits when the race is close. The President is campaigning in WI, FL, NV, VA and CO. In fact, both candidates are frequently in FL and VA. NC is a strong state for Romney because, as far as I can tell, he has no plans to visit there and nor does the President. Similarly, I don’t see any Romney pans to visit MI, MN or PA. Also, NV also seems to be out of Romney’s grasp as he has no plans to travel there. It is hard to make inferences about NH as Romney lives there so it is easy to campaign. OH has so many electoral votes that no candidate can afford not to campaign there – again no inferences can be made. Both candidates are in IA.
So, I think the state by state evidence is against Romentum. NC and NV do not seem to be in play. The rest of the battleground states are going to enjoy many candidate visits so they must be close. That’s about all I have!