In the wake of the 2012 election, many Republicans were left scrambling to figure out how Mitt Romney failed to beat an incumbent president with a stubbornly high unemployment rate, historically low GDP growth and drowning federal debt in an election year where all polls claimed that the economy, jobs, and rising prices were voters’ top priorities.
In my search for answers I didn’t bother listening to what extremist pundits had to say. In their Monday morning quarterbacking, hardcore conservatives predictably assumed that Romney must have lost because he wasn’t conservative enough while far left pundits claim America is now a liberal nation despite Obama only winning 50% of the popular vote. Biased commentators will naturally view the election results through the same lenses they view everything else.
To get my answers, I researched the exit poll data not only to find out how demographics broke for each candidate, but more importantly, to find out what voters thought. Below is my final report on the 2012 election result and the five key themes that made the difference this year.
A few notes though before go down the list. There are some conservatives who were stunned to find out that “3 million Republicans stayed home” from the 2008 count for Republican candidate John McCain. Lest anyone start thinking this made a difference, I want to break this theory right now. For starters, the final tally is in. While Romney had a 3 million vote deficit from 2008 the day after the election, now that all the absentee ballots and late counting has been finished, it turns out that Obama received 7.2 million less votes than 2008 while Romney received only 1 million less than McCain (59.9 million in 2008 vs. 58.9 million in 2012), although Romney got a bigger share of the vote than McCain – 48% in 2012 vs. 46% in 2008.
Second, the 1 million missing GOP votes did not come from the critical battleground states. To the contrary, Romney outperformed McCain in every single swing state including Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. The only exception was Ohio, where Romney received 84,000 less votes than McCain. My guess is because exit poll data reveals that the auto industry bailouts were widely popular among voters there (60% of Ohioans supported it) while Romney’s managed bankruptcy remarks were not.
The 1 million missing GOP votes did not come from red states either, as Romney also outperformed McCain in states like Texas, Utah, and Georgia. So then where did they come from? Hardcore blue states that weren’t even in contention, like New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, and Washington. In fact, California alone had 1 million less GOP votes than four years ago (5 million in 2008 vs. 4 million in 2012, while Obama lost 2 million votes there). So in other words, the difference was negligible, and Romney even increased the share of the GOP vote.
I also broke down the election results demographically in my last piece. But to recap, Romney won a majority of whites, males, independents, middle class voters, and married women. Any other election in U.S. history and that would’ve been enough. Obama won a majority of blacks, Latinos, millennials, lower middle class and poor voters, and single women, which was enough now to lock a 50%+1 majority. You could even make a case that this might be the old America vs. the new America, but that’s for another column.
1. “It’s (Still) Bush’s Fault.”
Obama’s victory came despite voter dissatisfaction with how things are going in the country, mediocre economic ratings and a majority opposing his health care plan according to the exit polls. So then how the heck did he survive re-election? Three words: “It’s Bush’s fault.”
When asked whom voters blamed for the current economy, a majority still believe Bush is Preside…I mean, responsible, 53% vs. 38% for Obama. The Democrats will ride that wave for as long as they can going into 2016, 2020, and 2024.
Never mind that fact that Bush was a lame duck president during his last two years in office after the Democrats took over Congress in 2006. But this is also a reflection of a wider myth that Republicans still have to work on debunking. Long before this election, I’ve been alarmed at the disturbing amount of Americans who believe that the 2008 recession was caused by “the failure of capitalism” (thank you socialist Michael Moore).
As my colleague on PolicyMic, Gary Patterson, Jr. rightfully identified, “In reality, the housing collapse was the driving factor in causing the recession, and both parties played significant roles in creating that mess,” while the Obama administration has indeed doubled down on the same big government expansion, reckless spending policies of the Bush administration. And it was precisely government intervention which turned a thriving housing market industry into a swamp, as I explained in Part 1 of my three part series debunking the economic myths of the Obama campaign. But exit poll data reveal this myth to still be alive and well.
2. ‘Kill Romney’ Worked.
As I wrote on election day, the Romney campaign kept its messaging solely focused on Obama’s record as president, his policies and his results. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, spent most of its time engaging in character assassination against Romney, trying to convince America that Romney was a right-wing extremist (while simultaneously having no principles) who hates women, dogs, gays, and poor people, while also being a wimp, international embarrassment, a felon who doesn’t pay his taxes, and a murderer.
While Romney and Ryan worked on proposing solutions to repair entitlements, reform our tax code, and reduce the debt/deficit, Obama and Biden simply bashed those plans without offering any of their own. Ironically, Obama summed it up best in 2008 when he said, “If you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.” That’s precisely what his re-election campaign did in 2012, choosing to focus on birth control, “binders full of women” and Big Bird instead of bipartisan solutions, economic reforms and job creation.
Well, the results are in: ‘Kill Romney’ worked.
Exit poll data show that Obama went into election day with a 53% favorable opinion of him and Romney with a 50% unfavorable opinion of him. Not surprisingly, 53% of voters also felt Obama is “in touch” with people like them vs. only 43% who felt Romney was while Obama successfully painted Romney as someone whose policies would favor the rich by, you guessed it, 53%.
I think it’s become clearly evident within the last generation that presidential elections have now become a contest over who can emotionally connect with voters more, rather than who has the better solutions. Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama all had one thing in common: voters felt they could “relate” to them. Candidates like Mondale, Dole, Kerry, and evidently Romney did not have this trait among most voters.
Mid-term elections still have room to be ideological in nature, such as 1994 and 2010, but as far as presidential elections go, I’m afraid going forward it’s going to be a contest of who’s the better salesman rather than who’s the better statesman. Emotion can motivate so many more voters than logic.
3. “Tax the rich more? Yeah, why not?”
It’s amazing how far Democrats can get vilifying the rich as the cause of all of America’s problems while simultaneously selling tax hikes on the rich as the solution to all of America’s problems, all while claiming it’s “not class warfare.”
Most Americans seem to think there is an endless supply of money that can be pumped from the rich by our government to cover our debt. Democrats continue to perpetuate this myth by claiming that it was the Bush tax cuts that “led to the economic recession” while completely ignoring the fact that out-of-control federal spending as a percentage of GDP has ballooned from its historic rate of 20% to 26% today over the last decade.
Exit poll data shows that a plurality agreed with Obama on what should happen with income tax rates: 47% think taxes should increase only on income over $250,000. Some 13% said taxes should increase on everyone, while 35% didn’t think anybody’s taxes should increase.
According to liberal estimates, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on the rich would bring in $829 billion extra revenue over the next decade. Last year’s budget deficit alone was $1.6 trillion. So in other words, what raising taxes on only the rich would bring in over 10 years would only cover 6 months worth of deficit spending. In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that Obama’s budgets will incur $9.5 trillion worth of deficits over that same time period. So raising tax rates on the rich will only cover about 8.7% of deficit spending over the next 10 years.
I guarantee you most Americans are not aware of that. But nothing works like manipulating voters’ jealousy and naïveté. It’s so popular to claim that “the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share” when, according to the CBO, in reality the richest 20% of Americans (averaging $273K in pre-tax income, or what is considered to be “rich” according to Obama) pay 68% of the federal tax burden, while the bottom 20% of earners pay just three-tenths of a percent of the total tax burden.
4. From ¡Viva La Bush! To ¡Sí Se Puede!
Everyone’s figured out by now that Republicans can’t afford to have seven out of 10 Latinos breaking for Democratic candidates. This is a demographic that’s only getting bigger.
One thing I’ve noticed is that even Republican governors from the ultra red state of Texas, including Bush and Rick Perry, have dismissed the idea of “building a wall and kicking them all out” as impractical and unrealistic. They’re right. We need to craft a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants and their families, especially those who go to college here or serve in our armed forces. Those who have committed criminal acts should be deported. But there are many hard working and upstanding Latinos that serve their communities outstandingly and shouldn’t have to live in fear of deportation from Republicans. This is a community just saturated with Republican values – they’re pro-family, very religious, traditional and hard working.
Reagan supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982. He got 37% of the Latino vote in 1984. Dole came down hard on illegal immigrants, vowing to increase the number of Border Patrol agents, create additional detention centers for illegal immigrants, deny public benefits to illegal immigrants, crack down on illegal aliens who overstayed their visas, and streamline the deportation process. He got 21% of the Latino vote in 1996. Bush supported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act which would have provided legal status and a path to citizenship for approximately 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants. He got 44% of the Latino vote in 2004. During the 2012 primaries, Romney sounded more like Dole, vowing to crack down on illegal immigrants, deny them benefits and ramp up border security. He got 27% of the Latino vote.
It doesn’t take a genius to analyze this pattern.
5. Majority of voters agree: Keep abortion legal.
In battleground swing states, a majority of voters now believe that abortion should be legal all or most of the time, including Ohio (56%-39%), Virginia (63%-33%), and New Hampshire (71%-27%), and it only goes up in other blue states. Even in states that Romney carried, like Missouri and Indiana, where GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock made controversial remarks on abortion in regards to cases of rape, a majority of voters in those states also believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time.
Republicans can be morally against abortion but leave the legality of it alone. It’s not even in their hands; it’s in the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. All they serve to do by publicly speaking to overturn Roe v. Wade is provide Democrats with all the ammunition in the world to distract voters from the real issues with pointless attacks. And as long as the GOP keep falling for it, they will keep losing elections.
As I’ve said for years, smaller government must mean smaller government. Keep it out of the board room as well as the bed room. It has no business in either – for anyone who still cares about upholding the Constitution anyway. And that is one area that still gives me hope for America's future, the exit polls show 51% of Americans still prefer smaller government with fewer services vs. 43% who prefer larger government.
How Obama won re-election with that is beyond me.