Still Trying to Make Sense of It [UPDATED]

I accept—reluctantly—that President Obama won reelection. What I can’t figure out is how.

Some pundits blame (or credit) Sandy; others credit (or blame) negative advertising. But that’s all conjecture and ass-covering. If I told you, however, that President Obama would lose more than 10 million votes from his 2008 results—finishing this time with fewer votes than John McCain had last time—wouldn’t you have told me that he had lost?

Similarly, I would have guaranteed that Mitt Romney would retain every McCain voter, and added to that tally. Yet he finished with three and a half million fewer votes than McCain.

So when the pundits tell you the election was about turnout, they’re only half right. It wasn’t about Obama’s turnout, it was about Mitt’s lack thereof.

So, what happened? The population of our country has grown steadily, yet the last time so few people voted for president was 2000.

James Taranto points out one clue:

Americans just re-elected Barack Obama but also gave Republicans an only minimally diminished House majority, thereby ratifying a status quo that hardly anyone finds satisfactory. The answer is that as almost all of the big swing states–North Carolina is the lone exception, with Florida still too close to call–went Democratic in the presidential race, they sent GOP majorities to Congress.

Here’s how the new House delegation breaks down for each swing state with 9 or more electoral votes, with Republicans counted first: Colorado 4-3, Florida 17-9 (with 1 yet uncalled), Michigan 9-5, North Carolina 9-3 (1 uncalled), Ohio 12-4, Pennsylvania 13-5, Virginia 8-3, Wisconsin 5-3.

Add it up, assuming Democrats hold their leads in the uncalled races (including for Florida’s 29 electoral votes), and Obama beat Romney in these eight states 115-15, while Republican House candidates beat Democratic ones 77-37. That’s enough to account for both Obama’s margin of victory and, in all likelihood, the Republican margin in the House.

[I]f you look at the maps of the other swing states, most of the districts look reasonably drawn. What you see is similar to those old maps showing the 2000 presidential results by county: little islands of blue in vast seas of red. Which is to say that most swing-state House Democrats come from big cities, while most suburban and rural swing-state districts elect Republicans.

Cities, of course, tend to have very concentrated populations of blacks, Hispanics, unmarried women and other components of the “emerging Democratic majority.” Suburban and rural districts are more politically diverse, meaning they are not as Republican as the urban districts are Democratic. They’re Republican enough to elect GOP House members, but not enough, at least this year, to outnumber the Democrats statewide.

Obama’s victory obviously vindicates his strategy, about which we were skeptical in July, of making calculated appeals to the fear or self-interest of these population subgroups, from the “war on women” nonsense to the overhyped quasi-amnesty for certain illegal aliens.

This year alone Obama made two cynical (to me) overtures to demographic groups: his “evolution” on gay marriage, and his fiat granting amnesty to certain illegal aliens. Even someone who supports these moves has to allow that they were made for purely political reasons. (Else why not make them earlier?) The “war on women”, the “Julia” video, and all the rest—they were calculated to appeal to his base and his base alone, and on that basis they succeeded. He lost ten million voters, but he held on to the cities where his base lives.

But those ten million voters didn’t vote for Mitt. They, and another four and a half million voters (and a few more, given population growth), stayed home. I still don’t know why.

In crunching the numbers, Allahpundit cites this observation by John Podhoretz:

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

That may explain our confusion, Judi (who wonders about this in the comments).


  1. judi said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 8:14 am

    The only part of this election that I can’t accept as true is that Mitt Romney received less votes than John McCain. I just don’t believe it.

  2. Bloodthirsty Liberal said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 8:38 am

    I think I know why. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. I believe it was in 2004 that the Wall Street Journal did a poll on whether or not Americans would vote for either a Jew or a Mormon. 49% said no to a Jew. 50% said no to a Mormon. (I am going by memory, so those numbers might be reversed). He lost for all the reasons people have cited, the gimme culture, gays, women, etc., but he also lost because a large enough number of Evangelicals and socially liberal, fiscally conservative others couldn’t vote for a Mormon. The Left, who wouldn’t vote for him anyway, had hours of fun laughing at Mormon underwear, polygamy, etc.

    - Aggie

  3. Bloodthirsty Liberal said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 10:38 am

    Yes and no, Aggie, if Allahpundit’s numbers are to be believed:

    One question I’m seeing in the comments is, “Did evangelicals turn out for Romney”? Yep, looks that way. Turnout among Protestants generally dropped slightly from 2008 (54% to 53%) but Romney’s share of the vote increased from 54% to 57%. Among white evangelicals specifically, turnout was steady at 26% of the electorate from four years ago and Romney took 78% of the vote compared to just 74% for McCain.

    So Romney did no worse than McCain among white evangelicals—but that’s not necessarily good news. If the Republican candidate can barely get one in four voters in that demographic, he (or she) is going to have a hard time winning. I found a site that ranks states by evangelical voters (as of 2004, but I doubt it’s changed that much), and compared it to the state results from this election. Romney won all the states with the highest percentage of evangelicals, but he barely lost Virginia, which ranks 12th in evangelical voter percentage. Same goes for Iowa (20th) and many other states (Colorado, Ohio) where evangelicals make up about a quarter of the electorate.

    If the best that can be said of Romney is that he did no worse than McCain among evangelicals, maybe (or maybe not) we’ve explained his defeat. Going out on a limb.

  4. Bloodthirsty Liberal said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

    More on this:

    But most importantly, the 2012 elections actually weren’t about a demographic explosion with non-white voters. Instead, they were about a large group of white voters not showing up.

    [I]f our assumption about the total number of votes cast is correct, almost 7 million fewer whites voted in 2012 than in 2008. This isn’t readily explainable by demographic shifts either; although whites are declining as a share of the voting-age population, their raw numbers are not.

    Put another way: The increased share of the minority vote as a percent of the total vote is not the result of a large increase in minorities in the numerator, it is a function of many fewer whites in the denominator.

    So who were these whites and why did they stay home? My first instinct was that they might be conservative evangelicals turned off by Romney’s Mormonism or moderate past. But the decline didn’t seem to be concentrated in Southern states with high evangelical populations.

    That’s consistent with what I wrote above. But it doesn’t address the evangelical vote in states where the race was close.

    Still, the writer looks for a different reason:

    So instead, I looked at my current home state of Ohio, which has counted almost all of its votes (absentees are counted first here).

    Where things drop off are in the rural portions of Ohio, especially in the southeast. These represent areas still hard-hit by the recession. Unemployment is high there, and the area has seen almost no growth in recent years.

    My sense is these voters were unhappy with Obama. But his negative ad campaign relentlessly emphasizing Romney’s wealth and tenure at Bain Capital may have turned them off to the Republican nominee as well. The Romney campaign exacerbated this through the challenger’s failure to articulate a clear, positive agenda to address these voters’ fears, and self-inflicted wounds like the “47 percent” gaffe. Given a choice between two unpalatable options, these voters simply stayed home.

    Perhaps this was the brilliance of the Obama/Axelrod strategy: to depress the white working (or not working) class vote. They had already written off the demographic themselves, but they didn’t need their votes if they just made sure they didn’t vote for Romney instead.

  5. Jeanette said,

    November 8, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    Unbelievably, the Tea Party movement refused to endorse Romney, which must also have had an effect on the turnout for him.

    “That’s right, a website purporting to reflect a movement which has fought a four-year pitched battle to hold back the tide of Obamamania and Obamanomics, has decided not only to sit this one out, but to do so in a publicity-grabbing way of a “None of the Above” endorsement. Sitting this one out is voting for Obama.”

    Professor William Jacobson at

  6. Buck O'Fama said,

    November 9, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

    Ron Paul put it bluntly the other day, saying that the reelection of Obama is driven simply by ‘the people’ being on the ‘receiving end’ of government benefits and that the US is “so far gone; we’re over the cliff already.” The only question is where we are going to land. And how hard.

    The crisis will be upon us within the next few years. What will come out of that, I don’t know. We had a chance to elect two guys who wanted to at least TRY and deal with our problems but the majority instead apparently decided it wasn’t in their interest to do so. Don’t cut big bird and give me free birth control pills! OK, you got it. Enjoy it while you can, it ain’t gonna end well.

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