Double the Spending, Less Turnout . . . The Numbers on Romney vs McCain

The votes are still being tallied, but it is very clear that the Romney campaign and allied groups didn’t come even close to delivering all the voters they could have, or should have, on Election Day.

I produced a very rough total for the vote by taking the state totals and increasing each candidate’s share by the percentage yet to be counted in each state: 66.2 million votes for Obama, 62.5 million for Romney.

In 2008, John McCain received about 60 million votes, a couple of million short of Romney. But, of course, the population has increased. When you look at the votes as a share of the voting eligible population, Romney pulled in almost exactly the same proportion of votes as McCain did in ’08. 

Romney’s campaign, despite all the turmoil and billions of dollars, could not turn out more voters than John McCain.

This is a stunning failure. Epic. And even more so when we look at the percentage of likely supporters each side turned out this year. The electorate has become more Republican and less Democratic since 2008 . . . in other words, Romney had a bigger pool of likely voters that he could draw from to outperform Obama. 

I apportioned the voting eligible population in 2008 to the full 7-point party identification breakdowns for 2012. In other words, if 28 percent of the population identified as a Strong Dem, then I assigned 28 percent of the VEP to Stong Dems, and did that for each category (and split pure Indies 50/50). 

In 2008, Obama’s campaign turned out 59 percent of their likely supporters, and McCain’s campaign turned out 63 percent of his likely supporters (there were a lot more Dems).

In 2012, Romney’s campaign turned out just 59 percent of potential supporters to Obama’s 58 percent. 

In other words, Obama and his allies turned out about the same proportion of a smaller pool of likely supporters, and Romney, et al, failed utterly to capitalize on the shift in party ID and ideology. Looking at the relative declines in various states, I think Sean Trende is on to something with his speculation about who failed to show up and why, especially in Ohio.

The more I look at these numbers, the more angry I get . . . this election did not have to be lost.

  1. James Of England
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Hoyacon

    Majestyk: I don’t want to cast aspersions, but I have a sneaking suspicion that evangelicals who flocked to the polls for George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were less inclined to do so for a Mormon and a Catholic.  I don’t like to say it, but this is a thought I can’t quite shake. · 3 hours ago

    Check the Romney/Obama evangelical breakdown in Colorado and you’ll have more difficulty shaking the thought.  · 41 minutes ago

    I think the exits tell a different story. Evangelicals were more likely to support Romney than even Mormons (by one point) and they comprised their expected share of the vote …

    I know people want to believe it and it’s even an understandable assumption. I’m just not sure the data are there to support it.

    Basically the turnout problems seem not to be with the base base (which is why we’re focusing on turnout operations). You don’t need to tell the base base to get out to vote. · 3 hours ago

    Do you mean in the Colorado exit polls? This suggest otherwise. In an overwhelming kinda way. Nationally, I agree.

  2. Valiuth

    I think this then is clearly a sign that Republicans/ their supporters don’t think things are bad enough to merit putting in five minutes to get an absentee ballot and filling it out. 

    I mean Karl Rove spent hundreds of millions of dollars on adds, but I guess he should have spent it on hiring some “volunteers” to go out register and help every rural Ohioan, Floridian, and Virginian that disliked Obama get an absentee ballot. How hard is that? I mean surely for you could have done that for 100,000,000 dollars. Right? 

  3. The Cloaked Gaijin

    Obama: 2008 — 69,456,897; 2012 — ~60,893,653

    Obama received about 8,563,244 fewer votes, a decrease of 12.33%.

    Republican candidate: 2008 — 59,934,814; ~57,957,207

    The Republican candidate received about 1, 977,607 fewer votes, a decrease of 3.30%.

    …..

    The thing about Romney receiving fewer votes is that we don’t know from which states those missing voters were located — without doing some detailed analysis.  A lot more votes from New York, the Pacific Coast states, and New England might have produced the exact same result.

  4. Adam Schaeffer
    C

    I took the state totals, which also have % reporting, and increased by that missing % . . . probably smaller precincts not reporting, but I’m sure some dysfunctional big cities are out too . . . either way, the Romney campaign and allied groups were a disaster at turnout.

  5. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    Valiuth: I think this then is clearly a sign that Republicans/ their supporters don’t think things are bad enough to merit putting in five minutes to get an absentee ballot and filling it out. 

    I mean Karl Rove spent hundreds of millions of dollars on adds, but I guess he should have spent it on hiring some “volunteers” to go out register and help every rural Ohioan, Floridian, and Virginian that disliked Obama get an absentee ballot. How hard is that? I mean surely for you could have done that for 100,000,000 dollars. Right?  · 2 minutes ago

    Exactly . . . instead they blew it all on crappy ads, robo-calls, and mail drops.

  6. James Of England
    Adam Schaeffer: I took the state totals, which also have % reporting, and increased by that missing % . . . probably smaller precincts not reporting, but I’m sure some dysfunctional big cities are out too . . . either way, the Romney campaign and allied groups were a disaster at turnout. · 3 minutes ago

    You’ve written a lot about how Obama’s GOTV operation is amazing. The polls said that roughly the portion of voters that wanted Obama to win voted for Obama. How is equaling an amazing GOTV operation proof of having a terrible GOTV operation?

  7. James Of England
    Adam Schaeffer

    Valiuth: I think this then is clearly a sign that Republicans/ their supporters don’t think things are bad enough to merit putting in five minutes to get an absentee ballot and filling it out. 

    I mean Karl Rove spent hundreds of millions of dollars on adds, but I guess he should have spent it on hiring some “volunteers” to go out register and help every rural Ohioan, Floridian, and Virginian that disliked Obama get an absentee ballot. How hard is that? I mean surely for you could have done that for 100,000,000 dollars. Right?  · 2 minutes ago

    Exactly . . . instead they blew it all on crappy ads, robo-calls, and mail drops. · 3 minutes ago

    In the past, you’ve talked about the problem with the RNC GOTV operation being that it relied too heavily on paid rather than volunteering canvassers. Are you now saying that they should have focused more on having paid canvassers?

    I agreed with you at the time that the lack of conservative volunteers was likely to cost us the election, but I don’t recall your suggesting a strategy for getting those volunteers; just repeated statements that they were needed.

  8. DocJay

    It boils down to the fact that most people just aren’t hurting enough to realize how bad it is and how bad it will become.  The media, the stimulus, entitlements, and television reality shows kept enough blinded.  

  9. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    James Of England

    Adam Schaeffer: I took the state totals, which also have % reporting, and increased by that missing % . . . probably smaller precincts not reporting, but I’m sure some dysfunctional big cities are out too . . . either way, the Romney campaign and allied groups were a disaster at turnout. · 3 minutes ago

    You’ve written a lot about how Obama’s GOTV operation is amazing. The polls said that roughly the portion of voters that wanted Obama to win voted for Obama. How is equaling an amazing GOTV operation proof of having a terrible GOTV operation? · 0 minutes ago

    Not sure I understand . . . the Dems have lower income/educ voters who vote naturally at lower rates, and their GOTV and persuasion efforts boost that rate significantly.

    Republicans have a base that naturally votes at a higher rate, and they did nothing to boost that, and failed to turn out marginal voters on their side.

    The polls predict the vote using a likely voter screen, which includes a respondent’s self-reported likelihood of turning  out. They proved quite accurate once again. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of Rep voters left on the table.

  10. SunnyOptimism

    As has been pointed out on other websites, it was not that the Obama machine was able to turn out more votes in its base, it’s that his machine was able to depress the pool of voters that Romney had available.

    In other words, the Obama strategy of making Romney out to be a heartless plutocrat who is alien to working-class folks (his June/July negative add barrage in Ohio) worked.  White, working-class voters may not have liked Obama all that much, but the ground was poisoned and Romney had little chance of motivating them to go to the polls.

    I guess this is the new political reality for future elections – don’t base your campaign on ideas, simply work to destroy your opponent’s credibility as much as possible and then whip your own base up into a frenzy ….. scary!  

    But then again, isn’t that what then State Senator Obama did to Jack Ryan to win the open IL Senate seat in 2006…destroy the opponent….

  11. AIG

    We don’t have to look at this only as a failure of Romney or his campaign. This can also be viewed as a failure of us. We didn’t show up to vote, for whatever reason. Why didn’t we show up? It can’t entirely be the campaign’s fault. Did the circus show that was the Republican debates have something to do with it? When we ourselves try to paint one of our candidates in the same rhetoric as the Dems do? 

  12. Adam Schaeffer
    C
    SunnyOptimism: As has been pointed out on other websites, it was not that the Obama machine was able to turn out more votes in its base, it’s that his machine was able to depress the pool of voters that Romney had available.

    In other words, the Obama strategy of making Romney out to be a heartless plutocrat who is alien to working-class folks (his June/July negative add barrage in Ohio) worked.  White, working-class voters may not have liked Obama all that much, but the ground was poisoned and Romney had little chance of motivating them to go to the polls.

    I guess this is the new political reality for future elections – don’t base your campaign on ideas, simply work to destroy your opponent’s credibility as much as possible and then whip your own base up into a frenzy ….. scary!  

    The choice to not vote is a perfectly reasonable choice . . . The Romney campaign shouldve worked to nudge those voters and drag them to the polls. They didn’t. They failed. Obama’s campaign did that successfully with many of their disappointed, marginal voters. Romney should’ve nudged those voters against turning out. They didn’t.

  13. Majestyk

    I don’t want to cast aspersions, but I have a sneaking suspicion that evangelicals who flocked to the polls for George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were less inclined to do so for a Mormon and a Catholic.  I don’t like to say it, but this is a thought I can’t quite shake.

  14. leslie adams
    James Of England

    Instead of spending all that money on expensive ads on tv, they should have spent it on bus rentals to take people to the polls and hot dogs  to those after they voted. 

  15. Richard

    I have to wonder if Romney’s Mormonism contributed to the lower Republican turnout. 

  16. James Of England

    Finally, and most importantly; which states had less GOP turnout and mattered? As I understand it, in Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Iowa, the GOP vote went up. If you’re suggesting that Romney’s GOTV operation in Mississippi was not up to snuff, I’m willing to believe you, but I don’t see why there would be such an operation (other than for downticket races).

    I see you say you agree with Sean Trende’s analysis that truly massive negative advertizing was responsible for Ohio not being on that list; do you in fact disagree and believe that it was because of a poor GOTV operation? Because it’s the only significant state that your analysis holds true for.

  17. James Of England
    Majestyk: I don’t want to cast aspersions, but I have a sneaking suspicion that evangelicals who flocked to the polls for George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were less inclined to do so for a Mormon and a Catholic.  I don’t like to say it, but this is a thought I can’t quite shake. · 5 minutes ago

    It’s not true. Evangelicals, nationwide, voted for Mitt in the same portions they voted for Bush, a huge increase on the Palin/ McCain ticket. They didn’t improve their turnout as much as white Catholics did, but in general did well. Ralph Reed’s GOTV operation appears to have been superb.

    Colorado is the sole exception. Mitt improved his white evangelical turnout by about 80%. Obama improved his white evangelical turnout by about 450%, which was responsible for his win there, many times over. Still, outside Mollie’s state, Mollie’s co-religionists were great. I’m looking forward to her explaining this confusing phenomenon.

  18. James Of England
    Adam Schaeffer

    James Of England

    You’ve written a lot about how Obama’s GOTV operation is amazing. The polls said that roughly the portion of voters that wanted Obama to win voted for Obama. How is equaling an amazing GOTV operation proof of having a terrible GOTV operation? ·

    Not sure I understand . . . the Dems have lower income/educ voters who vote naturally at lower rates, and their GOTV and persuasion efforts boost that rate significantly.

    Republicans have a base that naturally votes at a higher rate, and they did nothing to boost that, and failed to turn out marginal voters on their side.

    The polls predict the vote using a likely voter screen, which includes a respondent’s self-reported likelihood of turning  out. They proved quite accurate once again. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of Rep voters left on the table. ·

    Well, OK. It could be that untouched GOP voters turn out, so Mitt’s score is unimpressive. If that were the case, you’d expect a small difference between turnout in non-swing states and in swing states, where the GOTV operation had a presence. Right? 

    Clearly, the data denies the hypothesis.

  19. She
    grotiushug: Two questions:

    How many GOP seniors  died in the last four years who were not replaced by those just younger than them? 

    How many among the poor who would normally vote GOP (evangelical or otherwise) are now dependant on food stamps and other befefits? · 10 hours ago

    Good, and largely overlooked, questions, especially the first.  According to CDC data, 2,389,130 people over age 20 died in 2009 (about 1.7m were over 65).   Take the low number from the census totals for percentage of voters in the population, and say that 50% of them would have voted (and who knows, in Chicago, perhaps many of them did).

    Run those numbers over 4 years and give Romney just 30% of the totals.  That’s 1.4 million ‘votes’ from people age 20 or more.

    Assume no one under 65 voted.  Give Romney 40% of a 50% turnout of those 65 and above: 1.4 million ‘votes.’

    Are these Republican ‘voters’ being replaced on the other end of the age spectrum? 

    Well, how many 14 year olds do you know who think they’re going to vote Republican in four years?  (No fair citing your own children).

  20. James Of England
    leslie adams

    James Of England

    Instead of spending all that money on expensive ads on tv, they should have spent it on bus rentals to take people to the polls and hot dogs  to those after they voted. 

    12 minutes ago

    I know a fair number of people who acted as voter taxis. Are you aware of a shortage? Adam, is this something that needed more money?

    I’m not aware of any large scale voter bribery from the campaign. Adam, is this something that Mitt should have spent more on?

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In