Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Now that the election has come and gone, analysts are drawing conclusions as to what really happened. This phenomenon happens every two years. A look back at recent history concerning this type post-election analysis is indeed instructive.
Four short years ago, following the 2008 elections in which Barack Obama was elected President and the Democrat Party swept into what was characterized as “super majorities” in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, the conclusion reached by analysis was that the Republican Party was, if not dead, certainly on life support.
Two years later, in 2010 the Republicans took control by a significant majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and came within three seats of taking control of the U.S. Senate. The analysts concluded that Barack Obama had been repudiated and the Democratic Party was in serious long-term trouble.
Now following the recent election, the conclusion is that unless the Republican Party changes dramatically, they have no future.
We have been through this type of analysis going back as far as the 1964 election in which Lyndon Johnson soundly defeated Barry Goldwater. The fact is none of these analyses seem to ever turn out to be true. A more thoughtful and serious look at what is going on with our electoral process and the two major parties can certainly be more useful and more instructive.
Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney while 10 million fewer voters cast their ballots in 2012 than did in 2008. This happened in spite of increases in total population and registered voters over this same four-year period.
The key to understanding why the President’s campaign succeeded is because in every campaign, the winner has ultimately succeeded in defining a winning voting context for him with a majority of the voters. The Obama campaign decided strategically early on that the clearest and only way to victory was to set the context for this election as a “popularity contest.” Winning on policy and his record was not likely and probably a losing strategy. Every aspect of the President’s campaign played to his personal likability and popularity. They simultaneously, to quote their chief strategist, “killed Romney” by increasing his personal negatives. Any other conclusion misses the dominant reason for the President’s reelection.
The substantive facts of what happened on November 6 are as follows:
n The President was reelected to a second term with fewer votes than he received when he was elected to his first term. This is an anomaly in modern second-term reelections for President.
n Romney got many fewer votes than McCain did four years earlier.
n 30 of the 50 governorships are held by Republicans including in seven of the ten most populous states.
n 27 of the 49 partisan state House of Representatives are controlled by Republicans
n 28 of the 49 state Senates are also controlled by Republicans
n In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans maintained a 40-seat majority after the election and in the U.S. Senate, ended up losing a net of 2 seats.
As to the rising Hispanic population and Governor Romney’s failure to get more than 27% of that vote, there were other developments.
David Valadaeo, a Latino Republican running as a non-incumbent in California’s 21st Congressional District, won election against a Hispanic Democrat who was president of the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in a district which has a majority of voters who are Hispanic. Candidate Valadaeo won 60% of the Latino vote. Newly elected U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Latino, was elected in Texas and joins other Latino Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and New Mexico’s governor Suzanna Martinez.
The bottom line is neither party has developed any real lasting majority support from a majority of the body politic.
Both parties are shrinking in terms of the percentage of the population who say they belong to either party. In addition, both parties through their primary and nominating processes are dominated by voters who are among the more extreme wings of the two parties’ natural constituencies. The net result is more and more voters end up saying they are voting for the “lesser of two evils” and believe both parties are out of touch with their fundamental concerns.
The reality is that both parties need to look in the mirror and reassess their popularity with the voters and their own future in addressing domestic and foreign policy issues confronting the nation. These are serious times and popularity is not an answer.
Lynn Mueller is a veteran Republican campaign consultant who has joined Swatzel Strategies. His bi-monthly column in the Georgetown Times focuses on economics and politics.