WHAT HAPPENED LAST TUESDAY? – AT 8:58 A.M. ET: We have urged readers to gather information before making judgments about the election, and how to respond to it. Elections are complicated, often deceptive at first reading, and must be studied. Some pundits have, in fact, been restrained in making sweeping declarations before facts are in – a kind of taming of the shrewd (Okay, okay.)
Byron York, an excellent political reporter, has gone to Ohio to look at the electorate. His report, in the Washington Examiner, is required reading:
In 2008, when Obama first won Ohio, blacks were about 11 percent of the electorate. (They are about 12 percent of Ohio's population.) This time, blacks were 15 percent of the electorate. There has been no population explosion of African-Americans in those four years. Obama simply succeeded in getting more black voters to the polls than he did four years ago. Given the high level of black enthusiasm for Obama in 2008 -- big turnout, 97 percent for Obama -- that probably seemed impossible to most Republican strategists. It wasn't. That four-percentage-point increase in black turnout produced about 200,000 votes, more than Obama's winning margin in the state.
Four years ago, white voters were 83 percent of the Ohio electorate. This year they were 79 percent. There has been no implosion of the white population in Ohio in those years. There was simply lower turnout among white voters -- somewhere in the 200,000 range, which is, again, more than Obama's winning margin. (Latino voters weren't a major factor in Ohio; they were 4 percent of the electorate in 2008 and 3 percent this time.)
There are several theories about those missing white voters, but the most plausible is that the ones who were undecideds or weak Republicans were deeply influenced by Obama's relentless attacks on Romney in May, June, July and August. A steady stream of negative ads portrayed Romney as a heartless, out-of-touch rich guy, and Romney didn't really fight back. The missing white voters didn't like Obama but were also turned off by the Republican, so they stayed home. That's the theory, at least; Republicans will know more when they actually interview lots of those nonvoters.
In the end, while Obama, with all the advantage of incumbency, soared with his base, Romney couldn't fully connect with voters who might lean Republican. "My general impression is that the base, the activists -- the people you need -- never emotionally invested in Romney the way they emotionally invested in George W. Bush," says a senior GOP operative involved in the campaign. Maybe not even as much as they invested in McCain.
Developing a clear idea of why Romney lost is important because it will help Republicans fix the things that need to be fixed -- and not blow up the party if there are less radical solutions.
COMMENT: I like the comment about Republicans interviewing many of those nonvoters. Good idea. Get close to the people who actually decide elections, not simply the chattering classes in Washington.
As we learn more about the election, I think we're learning that there were many factors that led to the Republican defeat, not only in the presidential race, but in the debacle in Senate races. Not getting out their own vote is at the top. Not understanding changes in the American nation isn't far behind.
As Byron York implies, these things can be fixed. Don't despair. Work.
November 13, 2012