The Big Clue to the 2012 Election — and What the GOP Must Do Now

What happened on Election Day?  Why did Romney lose?  What do the results say about how the GOP (loser of the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections) must change if it is to win?  Here is the gist of what I said in a recent column:

For me, the big clue to this election was not the apparent surge of minority voters or youth voters. And it was not the gender gap. Don’t get me wrong.  Clearly the Hispanic and Asian voters, in particular, need more attention from the GOP.  But the real mystery and, I believe, the key to everything that happened on Election Day, was the voter who didn’t vote, 7.6 million of them in all when you add the (negative) difference between Romney’s total and McCain’s [in 2008] to the president’s drop off [from four years ago].   Some of this ghost vote went to third parties, whose combined total jumped about a third from 2008.  But that still leaves around seven million absent and unaccounted for, more if you consider the population increase. Why did they stay home?   Here’s my guess.  In 2005, pollsters started seeing a sector of the 2004 Bush vote breaking away from the GOP over spending and deficits.  Think of it as the Perot types a decade after Perot’s eccentric but devastating (for Mr. Bush’s father) run.  My guess is that the most vocal and active segments of this group later became the Tea Party, though many of the others found the Tea Party itself off-putting.  But in 2006 and 2008 much of this group (vocal or not) voted for the Democrats, if only to teach the Republicans a lesson.  Then came 2009 and the current president’s string of shock and awe trillion-dollar bailouts and deficits, pushing the New Perots back to the GOP in 2010. But here was Governor Romney’s problem.  This swing vote still distrusted Republicans, particularly anyone they saw a moderate Republican, meaning to them moderate about fixing the nation’s fiscal problems (which they saw as indistinguishable from its economic problems).  Several times through the primaries, pollsters split GOP primary voters between sympathetic-to-the-Tea Party and neutral-to-anti Tea Party.  It turned out to be pretty much a 50-50 division.  Romney consistently won the neutrals and antis.  All the swinging from candidate to candidate we saw in that period was in the pro-Tea Party segment.   Now it is true that by Election Day two weeks ago everyone with a strong institutional attachment to the GOP had lined up solidly and enthusiastically behind Romney.  But my guess is that there were millions of others – maybe as many as seven million – who shared the Tea Party views about spending, deficits and debt but didn’t care much for the GOP itself and weren’t sold.  They remembered Romney’s reputation for flip-flopping.  They were troubled that his themes came together with clarity very late, not until the first debate really.  So they never felt they could trust him to follow through in office, as, broadly, they felt they could trust Republicans in the House.   This is why they stayed home – or if they showed up at the polls, didn’t cast a vote for president. If I am right, winning back this sympathetic but distrustful group is the single biggest task for Republican candidates in the coming years.  That will mean standing firm – intelligently firm — on spending, deficits and debt.

  1. grotiushug
    Clark Judge  But my guess is that there were millions of others – maybe as many as seven million – who shared the Tea Party views about spending, deficits and debt but didn’t care much for the GOP itself and weren’t sold.  They remembered Romney’s reputation for flip-flopping.  They were troubled that his themes came together with clarity very late, not until the first debate really.  So they never felt they could trust him to follow through in office, as, broadly, they felt they could trust Republicans in the House.     This is why they stayed home – or if they showed up at the polls, didn’t cast a vote for president.  · 3 hours ago

    Come on.  Do you really think the number of voters who would cut off their nose to spite their face is that high?  They certainly had legitimate reasons to distrust Romney, but next to a second Obama term they are trifles.  This doesn’t pass the smell test.

  2. liberal jim

    In eight years the GOP failed too stop the largest terrorist attack in history, engaged in a nonsensical idealistic nation building fantasy,  started a new  entitlement program, increased the federalization of K-12 education, bailed out wall Street fat cats after they and the government help to almost destroy the economy.   They then nominate a candidate who has the potential to be a bigger bozo than the last  Republican president.  

    You seem puzzled why certain people did not vote for the GOP.  I am puzzled why anyone did.

  3. WI Con

    I too am surprised that such sizable number sat this year out, but I agree with what Scott Reuser stated (and also believe that a too sizable number of people bought into the contraceptive/abortion nonsense).

    I worked the polls here in Wisconsin, in what appears to be a bell weather for the way the state will go. There was definate ticket splitting (hard as it is to believe). The state GOP Assembly & Senate candidates won handily in this ‘blueish/purple’ affluent district. Of the last five elections I’ve worked, totals for GOP candidates in the mid to high 40′s indicate a statewide win when the solid GOP western suburbs counter Milwaukee & Madison (Romney & Thompson rec’d about 40% of that and lost the state by that same margin).

    The case was not made by Romney and those horrible charges/assertions never effectively refuted. 

  4. ConservativeWanderer
    Fake John Galt: Maybe the question should be why there is a large portion of the populace that is eligible to vote that do not even bother to vote. Much less vote for one side or the other. True that both sides have GOTV drives that tap into a relative small part of this group by either buying or coercing them but still there is a large untapped market. · 7 hours ago

    Gee, someone wrote about that not too long ago. Not the why — I really have no idea about why — but simply expressing frustration that so many people sat on their duffs.

  5. Scott R

    My hunch is that Michael Medved is right that the Tea Party types came out in force, but it was the somewhat-union-friendly working-class whites who were unmotivated  — e.g., in OH — since they bought the Bain, economy-as-zero-sum rubbish that Obama threw at Romney.

    Still a big problem, but one of a different sort.

  6. KarlUB

    Two words, people:

    Economic nationalism.

    This is what those people want, neither party offers, and happens to jibe with the GOP’s natural base.

  7. Barfly
    If I am right, winning back this sympathetic but distrustful group is the single biggest task for Republican candidates in the coming years.  That will mean standing firm – intelligently firm — on spending, deficits and debt.

    Heehee. Intelligent. Firm.

    If you are right, we should invest in canned goods and ammunition.

  8. R. Craigen

    Your piece still underestimates the size of the Tea Party.   And your “though many of the others found the Tea Party itself off-putting” seems to take for granted that the reaction to the tea party has more significance than the Tea Party itself.

    For your edification, consider this time portal to PJTV’s commissioned Tea Party Tracking Poll circa 2010.

    Pub_Pvt_TP_Support.jpg

    At its height, slightly more than half the American voting public supported the tea party movement — privately — while only just over 40% supported it openly (demonstrating the intimidation effect of the anti-TP narrative).  Either way, extending to the general population that’s well over 100 million supporters.

    Now consider:  TP_MEMBER.jpg

    At one point 20% of voters regarded themselves as tea party members.  Not supporters — members.  Again extrapolating to the population, that’s over 50 million members.

    A voting block that size is not to be ignored or minimized.  And its significance in the electorate is almost certainly an order of magnitude larger than that of external reaction to it, within or without the GOP.

    Instead of trying to navigate people’s reactions to the TP, the GOP ought to be deciding whether it is fer ‘em or agin ‘em.

  9. Pacificus

    At the risk of over-simplication, I think Romney lost for 3 reasons:

    -While I sense that he’d be a net-plus for our economy, he didn’t well-articulate how his presidency would affect positive economic growth and, even worse, the repeal of Obamacare got a bit lost in the shuffle in the last couple weeks of the campaign;

    -The Democrats can really turn out their voters – in large part because their voters are in population dense areas (e.g. Wayne County, Michigan and Cuyahoga, County, Ohio);

    -The Obama campaign bludgeoned Romney regarding his personal tax issue every early on.  Credit Harry Reid’s assist, bearing false witness against Romney on the Senate floor

    In short, Romney’s candidacy was less than compelling and Obama did just enough in terms of negative campaigning to eke out a “narrow landslide”.  

  10. R. Craigen

    More to the point:  If that tracking poll says what it appears to say,  if we imagined a presidential race in 2010 in which the TP decided to do what it has never made a move to do — enter the fray as a separate party — it was in a position to win, and that quite handily.  Yes, those figures would not translate into a clear 51% mandate.  But deeper in the poll you see that a sizable chunk of TP support came from registered Democrats.  Suc  a 3-way election at that point would have seriously decimated both GOP and DNC votes.  Polling near 50% and with unequalled enthusiasm, and the only clear message in the game, I am convinced they would have won, and left establishment strategists wondering what happened.  This would not have been a repeat of the Perot split of the Right, because they would effectively siphon support from Right and left.  No doubt the GOP would have been most seriously harmed, though.

  11. Fake John Galt

    Maybe the question should be why there is a large portion of the populace that is eligible to vote that do not even bother to vote. Much less vote for one side or the other. True that both sides have GOTV drives that tap into a relative small part of this group by either buying or coercing them but still there is a large untapped market.

  12. TeeJaw

    Tea Party supporters and members are about to get another snub from Republicans when they cave to Obama and give him everything he wants on the fiscal cliff deal.

  13. Barbara Kidder
    KarlUB: Two words, people:

    Economic nationalism.

    This is what those people want, neither party offers, and happens to jibe with the GOP’s natural base. · 3 hours ago

    I believe that you are onto something!

    Not withstanding the fact that ‘economic nationalism’ flies in the face of laissez-faire, free market capitalism, I do believe that this is an idea that would attract and motivate a broad swath of the electorate.

    Add to that, the mood of the country which is to ‘throw the bastards out’, and I could see the genesis of a third party, predicated on ‘economic nationalism’.

    Slogans such as, ‘Buy American’, ‘Get the UN out of the US’, ‘No welfare for illegals’, etc. would take off like wild fire!

    The specter of an anti-intellectual third party must scare the likes of Carl Rove…

  14. Steve MacDonald

    Your analysis mirrors mine so it is obviously brilliant. I would add a deep dissapointment    with GOP performance following the 2010 election. Same old big spending, big govt. types put in key power positions, no reduction in $trillion + deficits (which means money was appropriated by GOP “leaders”), no discussion of zero based budgeting, big “victories” in reductions 10 years out which will never happen.

    Untrustworthy GOP Congressional performance + Moderate candidate = a lot of less than enthusiastic people. My initial assessment was a 2006 style rejection and I have not seen much to change that view.

  15. Duane Oyen
    Scott Reusser: My hunch is that Michael Medved is right that the Tea Party types came out in force, but it was the somewhat-union-friendly working-class whites who were unmotivated  — e.g., in OH — since they bought the Bain, economy-as-zero-sum rubbish that Obama threw at Romney.

    Still a big problem, but one of a different sort. · 17 hours ago

    Exactly.  An emotional reaction based on nothing beyond distaste for a rich guy, regardless of his character, how he earned it, or his history.

    And they deserve what they are about to get.  I hope Ohio and PA appreciate the noble things they are doing for Our Enviroment after the electric rates go up and the coal jobs in Eastern Ohio and western PA all disappear.  They’ve earned it.

  16. Sumomitch

    Speculation about motivations of a inherently diverse group of non-voters (compared to 2008) which confirms the political views of the writer.

    My guess is that a finer analysis of state by state comparables from 2008 to 2012 would yield a more objective conclusion about possible motivations (or complete lack thereof) of the “missing voters.” But what do I know? 

  17. BrentB67

    I know in my area the Tea Party activists of which I consider myself one were out in force holding our noses and voting as a patriotic duty.

    I think the analysis in the article is correct. The one issue that was completely left off the table by the republicans in summer 2011′s debt limit fiasco and during the 2012 election was fiscal restraint. Gov. Romney offered no clear vision or courage to tackle the problem head on. Given that lack of courage there were probably a lot of voters that said to heck with it, why go stand in lines to vote for nothing.

  18. BrentB67
    ConservativeWanderer

    Fake John Galt: Maybe the question should be why there is a large portion of the populace that is eligible to vote that do not even bother to vote. Much less vote for one side or the other. True that both sides have GOTV drives that tap into a relative small part of this group by either buying or coercing them but still there is a large untapped market. · 7 hours ago

    Gee, someone wrote about that not too long ago. Not the why — I really have no idea about why — but simply expressing frustration that so many people sat on their duffs. · 15 hours ago

    CW – Americans will turn out in force to vote For something. Obama gave his supporters something to vote For. The only thing Gov. Romney gave his potential supporters was ‘I am not Obama’. I don’t think it is a mystery.

  19. Clark Judge
    C

    To Scott and to WI Con:  Medved and you may also be right, particularly in the industrial midwest.  It may also be that some of those to whom you point are among those I am talking about, too.

    To R. Craigen: Interesting data. Thanks for posting it.  No, I do not believe the reaction to the Tea Party is more significant than the Tea Party itself.  But I do feel that many who share the Tea Party agenda are put off by the Tea Party itself.  That’s a problem to take seriously if we are going to build a winning coalition — under whatever banner.

    To a number of commenters: Did Obama’s negative campaign hurt? Yes.  Was it effectively rebutted?  No.  But if his banner had been raised earlier, carried more steadily and borne bolder colors (particularly on spending, debt and the size and role of government), Romney might nevertheless have prevailed.