Dave’s 2012 Election Analysis

originally posted November 7, 2012; updated November 9, 2012 to include graphs of the results


Obama and Biden celebrate after election speech obama_biden_victory


This election was supposed to be close – a real squeaker.  It was supposed to be a long night, full of suspense, with the determination of the final result possibly delayed until recounts and challenges could be dealt with.  There was talk of a tie vote in the Electoral College, or a split between the popular vote and the electoral vote.


It didn’t turn out that way.


First, it was not a late night.  Despite most of the networks being overly cautious ever since getting burned in 2000, CNN called the race for President Obama just 18 minutes after polls closed on the West Coast, and they weren’t even the first to call it.  The race was called before the results in Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida were declared (Florida still hasn’t been officially “called”, but Obama is leading by more than 47,000 votes with 97% of precincts reporting – and most of the votes still to be counted come from heavily Democratic counties).  The only suspense was whether Obama would win the popular vote, and it became obvious that he would as soon as the votes from the Western states were added in.  After the suspense and controversies of 2000 and 2004, it was nice to have a clear result for the second election in a row.


There was never any danger of an Electoral College tie – President Obama won handily, crossing the 270 mark when Romney was still below 200, and ending up with 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, a difference of 126 electoral votes.  That’s an electoral landslide by any measure.


As for a popular vote/electoral split, that didn’t happen either.  President Obama won the popular vote by a margin of more than 2-1/2 million votes, with 50.73% to Romney’s 47.61%, becoming the first President since Ronald Reagan to win a majority of the popular vote twice.  In fact, since the popular vote began to be tallied in the 1824 election, only 7 Presidents have won a majority of the popular vote twice:  Andrew Jackson (1828 and 1832), Ulysses S. Grant (1868 and 1872), William McKinley (1896 and 1900), Franklin D. Roosevelt (four times – 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944), Dwight Eisenhower (1952 and 1956), Reagan (1980 and 1984), and now Obama.


Here’s another interesting point:  This election bears a remarkable similarity to the election results in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was first elected to the Presidency.  That year, Ronald Reagan won 50.75% of the popular vote; this year Barack Obama won 50.73%.  In 1980, Reagan had two major opponents, Jimmy Carter and Independent candidate John Anderson, who combined to win 47.62% of the popular vote; this year Mitt Romney won 47.61%.  Given these numbers, it is ridiculous for conservatives to argue – as many have done – that President Obama somehow doesn’t have a legitimate mandate; he clearly has as just as legitimate a mandate as Ronald Reagan had when he won the 1980 election.  This year’s popular vote percentages are also remarkably similar to those from the 2004 election, when George W. Bush won 50.73% of the popular vote (identical to Obama’s percentage this year) and John Kerry won 48.27% (more than half a percentage point higher than Romney).  That year President Bush beat Senator Kerry in the Electoral College by 286 to 251, a difference of just 34 electoral votes.  The election in Ohio, which ultimately put Bush over the 270 mark in electoral votes, was so close that the Kerry campaign refused to concede the election until the final result in that state was known with some degree of certainty, which didn’t happen until the day after the election, Wednesday, November 4th (Ohio would have put Kerry over 270 instead of Bush, had it gone his way).  The following day (Thursday, November 5th), President Bush held a Press Conference and said this:


Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it … I’ve got the will of the people.”


Given the similarity in the popular vote numbers from 2004 and 2012, and Obama’s much larger victory in the Electoral College, by President Bush’s standards President Obama has clearly now earned “political capital” and has “the will of the people” behind him.  Again, it is ridiculous for conservatives to argue that President Obama somehow doesn’t have a legitimate mandate.  [NOTE: This section has been revised to reflect updated vote counts.]


The Republicans won’t see it this way, of course.  They will try to push the narrative that this was such a close election that President Obama did not receive a mandate – that he didn’t earn “political capital” and doesn’t have “the will of the people” behind him – but there is just no denying the numbers.  The Republicans lost – badly – and they didn’t just lose the Presidential race.


This was the year the Republicans were going to finally take back the majority in the United States Senate, but instead they saw a net loss of two Senate seats.  They saw a projected net loss of 9 House seats as well, including several of the most well-known and outspoken representatives of the right wing – Alan West of Florida, Joe Walsh of Illinois (no, not the rock star), Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, and others.  Perhaps the most well-known spokesperson for the right wing, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, barely hung on to her seat by a margin of just 4200 votes, despite having outspent her Democratic opponent in a very conservative district by a ratio of 12 to 1.  The voters spoke out – loud and clear – in this election, and they delivered a massive repudiation of the GOP at almost every level.  No matter how the Republicans might try to spin the results, this was a very bad night for them  [UPDATE (11/20/12):  The remaining races have finally been called in the House, and the final result is that the Democrats will gain 8 seats in the new Congress starting in January, leaving the Republicans in the majority with a final count of 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats].


There were other significant results that should give the Republicans reason for some serious self-reflection.



fivethirtyeight-tipping point 2012


The GOP was not able to make serious inroads into the Electoral Map.  The only states the GOP was able to take back from President Obama’s 2008 electoral victory map were Indiana and North Carolina, and both are traditional Republican states where Obama’s 2008 victories were unexpected surprises to begin with.  The GOP has to take a long, hard look at the electoral map arithmetic and develop a path to 270 electoral votes that reflects the new reality, or they won’t win in 2016 either.  Or in 2020.  Or in 2024.  Or…


Take a look at the chart above.  This chart lists the states and Washington D.C. according to President Obama’s margin of victory/loss, with the cumulative electoral vote that went along with it.  Thanks to the demographic shifts in the electorate and the GOP’s failure to control their more extreme factions (all detailed below), the Democrats won the electoral college – with the state that ultimately put them over the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election (what Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight calls the being Colorado.  Not Ohio.  Not Florida. Colorado.  Going into Election Day, all the talk was about how close this election was and how it would all come down to Ohio, but as this chart clearly shows, that just wasn’t the case.  Ohio was mere window dressing for President Obama – as were Florida and Virginia – and this is why the Republicans may be in trouble for many Presidential elections to come.  If they fail to adapt to this changing map, they simply cannot win the Electoral College.  The arithmetic is indisputable.  [UPDATE (11/24/12): As ballot counting has continued, things have shifted a bit.  It turns out that Obama won Colorado by 5.5%, and the state that actually put Obama over the 270 mark in the electoral college (when states are ranked by Obama’s margin of victory) was Pennsylvania (still not Ohio or Florida!), which he won by 5%.  Counting continues, so these numbers could change again…]


Even if the race had turned out to be closer in the national popular vote, Obama would still have had a tremendous advantage.  Note that both Ohio and Florida were closer than the national popular vote margin of 2.5%.  If the national vote had been tied, and we assume a uniform shift towards Mitt Romney of 2.5%, Romney would have won both Ohio (by 0.6%) and Florida (by 1.9%).  The problem for the Republicans is that it wouldn’t have mattered – Obama would still have won the election with 285 electoral votes, a victory with electoral votes to spare.  In fact, if we shift the national popular vote margin by another 2 percentage points (simulating a Romney win in the popular vote by a 2% margin), Romney would have added Virginia to his column (by 1.5%), but Obama would still have won the election with 272 electoral votes.   [NOTE:  The counting has continued since this chart was posted, and as of 11/21/12, Obama’s margin had grown to over 3%]


It has often been said that in war, the losing generals are the ones fighting the previous war.  The winning generals are the ones who utilize new tactics to reflect the current battle.  The same is true in politics.  The days when Ohio or Florida determine the election may very well be over.  The ground has shifted.  The new reality is that the Democrats no longer need Ohio or Florida to win the election – the new battlegrounds are in places like Colorado and Virginia, which traditionally have been reliably Republican states (since 1964, 2008 was the first time a Democrat had won Virginia, and only the second time a Democrat had won Colorado).  This presents the Republicans with a stark choice:  adapt or lose.


How did this happen?  Some may argue that Romney was a flawed candidate and this chart doesn’t really spell out a new reality, it merely reflects a poor campaign.  Others will cite Obama’s better-than-expected ground game (although I’m not sure why the Republicans underestimated this – the Obama Campaign wasn’t exactly keeping their ground game a secret).  Some will point to Hurricane Sandy, which they say “interrupted Romney’s momentum” (it didn’t – polling shows his momentum had already slowed and the race was fairly steady at that point), and to Chris Christies’ “endorsement” of the President’s response.  All of that should be factored in, of course, but the Republicans ignore the larger electoral shift at their peril.  There is a new war, and if the Republicans insist on fighting the previous one, they will continue to lose.


demographic coalition

2012 vote by age

white vote dropping



The GOP has an obvious demographics problem.  The above graphs may help in visualizing the GOP’s demographic problem. The varying growth rates in the different demographic groups over the past decade tell a story that should cause serious concern among Republicans.  The Latino population grew by more than 15 million between 2000 and 2010, from 35.3 million to 50.4 million – a growth rate of about 43%.  The Asian population grew by more than 4 million, from 10.1 million to 14.4 million – also a growth rate of about 43%.  The black population grew by more than 3.6 million, from 33.9 million to 37.6 million – a growth rate of about 11%.  The white population, on the other hand, grew by just over 2.2 million, from just over 194.5 million to about 196.8 million, for a paltry growth rate of just over 1%.  At these rates, it was obviously only a matter of time before winning the white vote wouldn’t be enough to win anymore.  Well, that day has arrived.  President Obama won 93% of the black vote, 73% of the Asian vote, and 72% of the Latino vote.  The Latino population is the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, and reached double-digits as a percentage of the electorate for the first time this year.  The African-American turnout was also larger than it was expected to be this year (the much-ballyhooed “enthusiasm gap” didn’t materialize; there is some strong evidence to suggest that GOP voter suppression tactics angered the black community this year and were a major contributing factor to the larger-than-expected black turnout).  A similar “enthusiasm gap” also failed to materialize among young voters (ages 18 – 29), who turned out in even larger numbers than they did four years ago (19% of the electorate, compared to 18% in 2008), and voted overwhelmingly Democratic (60% – 37%).  Meanwhile, the percentage of the electorate that was white dropped from 77% in 2004 (the last time the GOP won the Presidency) to 72% this year, and it is expected to continue dropping for the foreseeable future.  Clearly, the GOP cannot continue to be the party of older white people and hope to win national elections.  Unless the GOP can address these demographic issues (stop demonizing Hispanics and find a way to compromise on the immigration issue, appeal to young voters, and so on), they are unlikely to ever win the White House again.  Ever.  They simply won’t have the votes.


The GOP has an obvious gender-gap problem.  President Obama won the women’s vote by 11 points (including 67% of single women), but Romney only won the men’s vote by 7%.  This difference was amplified because women were significantly more than half of the electorate.


The GOP’s gender problem didn’t stop at the Presidential level.  In New Hampshire, Tea-Party favorite Ovide Lamontagne, once favored to win, lost the Governor’s race to Democrat Maggie Hassan by 11 points.  In addition, both of New Hampshire’s House seats had been held by Republican men, and both were defeated by Democratic women.  This creates an interesting historical accomplishment – since both of New Hampshire’s Senate seats are already held by women (and neither was up for re-election this year), New Hampshire now will become the first state in American history to have its entire Congressional Delegation be made up of women, and they added a female governor to that already significant feat.


In Wisconsin, a state that went Democratic despite being the home state of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan (tell me again – why was Ryan on the ticket?), the Republican candidate for the open United States Senate seat was former Governor, former Cabinet member (Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush Administration), and former Presidential candidate Tommy Thompson – by far the most widely respected politician in the state – who should have been a shoe-in to replace the retiring Democratic incumbent, Herb Kohl.  This night was so bad for the Republicans that even a solid, formidable candidate like Thompson couldn’t win in a battleground state like Wisconsin despite the respect and popularity he enjoys there.  Instead, Thompson lost to a very liberal Democrat, Tammy Baldwin, who now becomes the first openly-gay person ever elected to the United States Senate (she had already been the first openly-gay person ever elected to the House of Representatives).


Why does the gender-gap problem persist? For starters, the GOP’s positions on social issues are, to say the least, outdated.  The Democrats weren’t far off when they accused the Republicans of espousing social positions more suited for the 1950’s than the 21st century.  Which leads us to their next problem.


The GOP has an out-of-the-mainstream-on-social-issues problem.  In Missouri, Todd Akin’s controversial comments about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy cost the Republicans a Senate seat that they should have won, since the Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill, was by far the most vulnerable incumbent Senator running for re-election from either Party.  In Indiana, Tea-Party favorite Richard Mourdock had defeated the long-time Republican incumbent Senator Richard Lugar in the Primaries, but his controversial comments about a pregnancy resulting from rape being “something that God intended to happen” cost the GOP a seat that should never have been close – and wouldn’t have been with Lugar on the ballot (The Mourdock controversy hurt Romney nationally as well; Mourdock was the only GOP Senate candidate in the nation that Romney had endorsed in a televised political ad, and he pointedly refused to demand that the ad be pulled in the wake of Mourdock’s statements – a fact that was used to great effect by the Obama campaign).   In Pennsylvania, a statement made by the GOP Senate candidate, Tom Smith, comparing pregnancy resulting from rape to a pregnancy out of wedlock, put another pick-up opportunity out of reach.


The real problem on this issue for the GOP is that, while these candidates all made statements that sounded crazy and extreme, their comments were precisely in line with the Republican Party’s official position on the abortion issue.  No fewer than 12 of this year’s Republican Senate candidates (and possibly more, but many wouldn’t answer the question) believe that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape or incest, as does the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan. The GOP even went so far as to amend their Party’s official opposition to abortion – removing the exceptions for cases of rape and incest in their official Party platform at the Republican National Convention.  This is the GOP’s official position on abortion.  In other words, Akin, Mourdock, and Smith were not exceptions to the rule; they ARE the rule in the GOP – they just expressed the official GOP position in an “inarticulate” manner.   The GOP tries to argue that mainstream America agrees with them on abortion, but this is simply nowhere close to the truth.  Let’s be absolutely clear on this.  This is an extreme position – even most of the pro-life crowd would grant exceptions in cases of rape or incest.  Now that the Democrats have figured out how to run against the Republicans on this (for example, framing the GOP position as “forcing rape victims to give birth against their will”), the GOP will continue to get crushed on this issue.


Another social issue that loomed large in this year’s GOP primary campaign was access to contraception.  Unbelievable!  Do Republicans really think that denying access to contraception – a position advocated by Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and others – is going to be acceptable to American women?  If they really believe this, they’re nuts.  The right to access to contraception is a settled issue.  Just the fact that this even came up hurt the GOP this year, and was a major contributing factor to the gender gap.


Meanwhile, gay marriage was approved by voters in two states (Maine and Maryland) [UPDATE (11/12/12):  Make that four states – the latest results from Washington and Minnesota show gay marriage winning in those states as well.], the first time in over 30 tries that voters anywhere have approved it.  President Obama won the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) vote by 76% to 22%.  The pendulum is clearly swinging – national polls now show a majority of Americans support the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, and the Supreme Court is likely to take up cases this year on California’s Proposition 8 (which banned gay marriage) and the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (known as DOMA – which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for purposes of federal law) – both of which have been found unconstitutional by lower courts.  I think the Supreme Court will find DOMA to be an unconstitutional expansion of federal power into an area of law that traditionally has been the purview of the states, and therefore a violation of the 10th Amendment.  I’m not so sure how they will rule on the California Proposition 8 case itself, but the Constitution requires that “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state” (Article IV, Section 1), and marriages have always fallen into this category – this is why you can elope to Vegas and your home state has to recognize your marriage, regardless of your home state’s requirement for things like marriage licenses.  I believe this provision of the Constitution will force the Supreme Court to require all states to recognize gay marriages performed in other states – perhaps not this year, but eventually.  With three Supreme Court Justices reaching the age of 80 before the end of President Obama’s second term – including conservatives Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy (the other is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is generally regarded as the Court’s most liberal current Justice) – it is likely that new Justices appointed by President Obama will give the liberal side a majority on the Court.  If a Democrat wins the Presidency in 2016 – which is probable regardless of who the candidates are, unless the GOP can effectively address some of the problems I have detailed here (especially with the electoral map, demographics, and women) – this becomes even more likely.  The Republicans are going to find themselves on the wrong side of history on this issue, and they will need to adapt to changing times in order to stay relevant (and electable).  [UPDATE (11/12/12):  This paragraph has been revised to give more detail on the Court situation.]


The overall problem for the GOP is that as a party they seem unable to control their various factions; instead, the factions are controlling the GOP.  Whether it’s the Tea Party on taxes, the budget, and the role of government, the social conservatives on abortion, gay rights, and contraception (I still can’t believe they even brought that one up), or the neocons on national security issues, defense spending, and foreign policy, these factions have been able to strike fear into the hearts of elected Republicans by threatening well-funded right-wing challenges in the primaries.  Such Republican stalwarts as Bob Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana have lost their Senate seats in the primaries because they “weren’t conservative enough” or dared to reach across the aisle, lending credence to these threats.  In several additional races that should have been easy wins for the GOP, these factions have successfully challenged other establishment candidates in primaries, only to lose those races in the general election.  Examples include Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, who defeated Mike Castle – a former Governor, long-time Congressman, and arguably the only Republican who could win a statewide race in Delaware – in the 2010 Senate primary, only to become a major embarrassment to the GOP in the general election (remember “I am not a witch”?); Sharron Angle of Nevada, who defeated former State Republican Party Chair Sue Lowden in the primary, only to become the sole reason Harry Reid is still a Senator; and the aforementioned Todd Akin, who became the GOP candidate by defeating former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and businessman John Brunner.  All told, these extreme candidates have cost the GOP at least 7 Senate seats over the past two elections (Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado in 2010; Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan in 2012) – more than enough to have taken the majority in the Senate.  Other Senate seats that might have been won with more reasonable candidates this year included Ohio and Washington.  Another indication of just how strong the Democrats were this election is the other Senate races the Republicans lost despite having good candidates – Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and, as noted above, Wisconsin.


This raises an obvious question; how willing will GOP members of Congress be to compromise with President Obama when they are certain to face a strong primary challenge if they do?  We don’t need to look much further ahead than the 2014 elections to see what this could mean.  Not only will every House Republican be facing re-election, but among the GOP Senators who will be facing re-election that year are Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Cornyn of Texas (chairman of the NRSC, the committee overseeing the Republican Senate recruitment efforts and campaigns for this election, and the new Republican Whip), Susan Collins of Maine (a moderate who voted for Obamacare and the Stimulus package), Lindsay Graham of South Carolina (known for his willingness to reach across the aisle), Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (a moderate who is widely respected on both sides), and several other key Senators on critical committees.  What incentive will they have to reach across the aisle if doing so is likely to cost them their re-election?  If these Senators refuse to work cooperatively with the President, what are the chances of any major legislation being passed – and what does that mean for our nation?


There are some truly serious issues facing our nation in the very near future.  If no deal is reached, America will go off the so-called “fiscal cliff” – a combination of tax hikes and massive spending cuts, including cuts in defense spending – at the end of 2012.  Beyond that there will be attempts at deficit reduction, reforming the tax code and immigration policy, and we will soon face another debt ceiling increase deadline.  Will the Republicans play ball?  Can a deal be reached to avoid the “fiscal cliff”, or will they be the ones who push us over that edge?  Will they agree to raise the debt ceiling, or will they force another downgrading of America’s credit rating?  Will they cooperate with immigration reform efforts, or will they alienate Latino voters even further than they already have and seal their fate for future Presidential elections?  Will they be able to reach agreement with President Obama on a balanced approach to deficit reduction, or will they insist on trying to achieve deficit reduction only through draconian spending cuts, repeating what all of their candidates in the Presidential primary promised at one of the debates during the primaries – that they would not even accept a deal of $9 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases?  In other words, will they remain intractable obstructionists whose goal is simply to deny President Obama any legislative achievement, or will they try to at least appear reasonable in attempting to conduct the business of the American people?  The Republican Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  Really?  That was the “single most important thing” on their priority list?  I would have thought that the “single most important thing” would have been to pull America out of the recession, or win the war in Afghanistan, or find Bin Laden, or something like that.  Well Senator McConnell, you have failed in your top priority – President Obama has been re-elected. Now what – more obstruction?  Given the statement the voters have delivered loud and clear to the GOP in this election, that might not be the best idea.


The President has demonstrated that he can work with Republicans when they are willing to work with him – just look at how he and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were able to cooperate when dealing with Hurricane Sandy.  Our nation is facing too many serious challenges to play the kind of obstructionist games we have seen for the last four years (and especially for the last two years), but the onus will be on Congressional Republicans to prove they can work with a President who clearly has earned “political capital” and has “the will of the people” behind him.


© 2012 by David Bleidistel.  All rights reserved.