Or how to legally suppress voters.
Obama faced a very serious problem last November, he was deeply underwater with voters many of whom had voted for him in 2008. If the voting electorate in 2012 was largely made up of those who voted in 2008 he was going to lose. He needed an electorate that mirrored the 2008 distribution of Democrats and minorities if he was to win. So he and his campaign crafted a huge gamble and bet everything on being able to select who would vote in 2012. He succeeded and won by legally suppressing the low turnout voters who would vote against him. This has the side benefit that it protects vulnerable Senate seats as well. Give the Obama campaign its due. It was a brilliant, if desperate, move which was executed perfectly. This is also the reason, in addition to the impact of Sandy on NY and NJ, that voter turnout plummeted. The Republicans never saw it coming. They were busy winning the election of 2008 or maybe 2004, while Obama out flanked them.
During the spring Obama spent $15 million “polling” the swing states. Republicans assumed that a great deal of this was push polling and voter identification. In part it probably was, but it also meant that low turnout voters were subjected to intense polling quite early. Then the campaign spent the much trumpeted $200 million on negative ads in the swings to “kill” Romney. For well documented reasons the Romney campaign was constrained from spending money to answer those ads. Even if they could have responded it wouldn’t have mattered, in fact it might have worked to aid Obama, because the goal of all of this besides making Romney toxic was to get the angry frustrated low turn out voter to stop listening. By the time that the conventions were held and the debates, a large chunk of these voters, who the Republicans were counting on, had washed their hands of the entire process. They didn’t like either of the candidates and were uninterested in voting for either of them. They didn’t watch the conventions, they never saw the empty chair, and they never watched a debate. They had also stopped participating in any polling and had largely dropped beneath the radar.
During this period the Obama campaign also focused all of its GOTV efforts in the swing states. Few if any resources were used in red states or in blue states. Wonder why Obama could win, while leaving the house almost unchanged? Remember that the discussions about if the electorate was D+6 dozens of house seats should be in jeopardy? They weren’t because the vast majority of those seats were simply not attacked by the campaign and because the overall electorate was not favorable to the Democrats. Obama decided, correctly, that rather than drag voters to the polls in safe states, or contest difficult states, he’d simply let them take care of themselves. So turnout in Ca is down 1.2 million voters? He still wins. So the Republicans get a slightly bigger win in a few deep red southern states? Who cares?
The massive negative campaign in the swings hurt Obama too. Driving up his negatives and tuning out some of his voters. This is why he concentrated his GOTV efforts in those states. To get as many of his disaffected voters to the polls anyway. Remember the comments about how the Democrats were “being forced” to early vote their high turnout voters? The Republicans took this as a sign that the Democrats were having turnout problems, and they probably were, but the Obama campaign was operating to plan. Get as many your remaining voters as possible in early and bank on poorer turnout on election day by the Republicans.
The Republicans were counting on a “normal” turnout pattern where they would outperform on election day, as they had done historically. So their strategy was to “stay close” in early voting, and win it on Nov.6th. Unfortunately they incorrectly categorized their voters, and on election day a huge number of them were sufficiently disaffected that they never showed up. Yes Sandy helped Obama by stalling Romney’s momentum. The photo op with Christie helped Obama as well. Ohio and Fl and another couple of the swings were close enough that without Sandy, Romney might have squeaked by, but probably not.
According to Jay Cost 10 million white voters failed to show up. Sean Trende puts that number at 7 million. It will be weeks, and for some states months, before we get state by state quality voter demographics, and can measure exactly what happened. However, when 15 million voters fail to show up and the effect is nation wide you can be sure that something unusual has occurred.
None of this has any impact for the next two years. Through a brilliant strategy Obama has gained reelection. He will proceed with his agenda. He knows that he has no mandate, but he doesn’t care and the press will claim a mandate for him anyway. As he has said “elections have consequences” and he won.
This, assuming that further analysis proves the scenario correct, has grave implications for conservatives and Republicans moving forward from this loss. First it is important to understand that the nation has NOT shifted left. If anything the opposite is true. While we must deal with the debt and sequestration, we should understand that 66% of those who voted in the election do not want their taxes raised. This means that among the overall electorate, which includes nonvoters, that percentage is even higher. So while some compromise on taxes will surely be required, we must hold out for far more reductions in spending and effective tax reform with minimal tax rate increases. The left does NOT have a mandate for tax and spend.
Most importantly we must recognize that the country as a whole did not opt for socialism. We blew the election strategy and snatched a defeat in a year in which we should have walked away with a win. We must not lose heart. We must not become dispirited. We need to take a brief break and then reengage. 2014 is coming, and as the real impact of Obama policies are felt the electorate is going to shift further to the right. We also have to come up with a way to reach, engage, and motivate angry, frustrated, dispirited voters.
One more thing, while the Republicans (we?) blew this election, maybe we shouldn’t dump too much on them (ourselves?). After all, ask yourself this question. If I had told you in January that the Obama campaign had come up with a plan to make the angry anti-Obama voter work for them this year wouldn’t you have thought I was nuts? Hindsight is 20/20.