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Reflecting on the 2012 Elections

A Status Quo Campaign Changes Little

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It goes without saying that the 2012 election was a major disappointment for conservatives. While the GOP held onto the House of Representatives, they lost the presidency and two seats in the US Senate. For failed presidential candidate < ahref="http://usconservatives.about.com/od/campaignselections/p/Mitt-Romney-2012-Republican-Nominee-For-President-Profile.htm"> Mitt Romney, the worst part was that he barely matched John McCain’s 2008 voter total despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars more.

For his part, president Obama clearly lost a lot of goodwill from 2008 as his support fell of quite a bit. While the GOP ticket did slightly better than in 2008, Obama became the first sitting president since FDR to lose votes from one election to the next and still win the presidency. His support dropped by several million votes, making the loss by the GOP even more painful. So, where did it all go wrong for Mitt Romney? Let’s take a look.

A Single Issue Campaign

Mitt Romney ran a single issue campaign focusing on the economy. While the economy remained the number one issue for voters – and he ran ahead on the question of which candidate would better handle the economy, taxes, and jobs – his margin with those voters was not good enough. Voters were still split on who could best turn things around, or even if either candidate actually could. In the end, Romney left too much on the table. He barely talked about Obamacare, which remains highly unpopular and will now remain law. Unlike George W. Bush and even Bill Clinton before him, faith was completely off the table. Social issues were simply not a part of his campaign. After it was clear the media was AWOL on Libya coverage (when not delivering a direct assist to Obama), he decided to go AWOL on foreign policy, too.

On the other hand, Obama ran a social issues campaign targeting many different groups of voters. He played the race card. He played the gender card and trumped up the ridiculous and insulting “war on women.” He issued an Executive Order on immigration just months before the campaign to lock in Hispanic voters. He suddenly became a gay marriage advocate after professing his support for traditional marriage four years earlier. And, again, Romney completely avoided all of the issues. He stuck with one issue, and hoped it would be enough.

Losing the Core

Not only did Romney run a single-issue campaign, but he ran a single-issue campaign that mostly would have appealed to people who were going to vote for Obama no matter what. Ironically, the groups who have been hurt the most over the previous four years in the workforce are key Obama voters. Women, minorities, and recent or soon-to-be college grads have suffered the most in the job market under Obama and have seen the highest levels of unemployment. Obama neutralized these concerns by blaming Republicans, claiming everything was in the middle of a great turn-around, or winning them over with the previously-discussed social agenda. Obama gave his supporters a reason to vote for him beyond the economy.

On the other hand, Romney’s sole message resonated far less with those who have jobs or have been successful despite the Obama economy. Republicans and Independents were less likely to be unemployed and to be worse off than they were four years earlier. Unemployment overall is around 8%. For minorities the rate is highest at over 14%. The unemployment rate for women soared. Yet the rate for whites 35 and over dropped to the 4-6% range over the previous four years. Ironically, the people worse off than they were four years ago voted for Obama anyway, and those least affected by labor conditions simply didn’t turn out to vote, and they were the ones who would have voted for Romney. Lesson: You have to give voters more than one reason to vote for you.

A Storm?

Hurricane Sandy landed a horrible blow to both the east coast and the Romney campaign. Pre-Sandy, Romney had all of the momentum and was soaring in the polls. President Obama used the storm to his advantage and suddenly became the most pro-active President in the history of mankind. His hands-on leadership was absent for most of the previous four years in major catastrophes including Hurricane Isaac, the Libyan terrorist attack, and the BP oil spill. Nevertheless, Obama seized the spotlight for a 4-day window a week before the election and the Romney campaign’s momentum was completely halted. With just a handful of days to go, there was little time to recapture the magic. In the end, some 15% of voters stated that Obama’s “handling” of hurricane Sandy (mostly a 4 day photo-op spree) had a major impact on their vote. Assuming 80% of those people probably were voting for him anyway, even if just 1 in 5 voters in that small 15% sample had switched their vote from Romney to Obama it would have been enough to swing the results in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, and Wisconsin – and the entire election. Was that the cause, or was it everything else? We will never know.

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