In the weeks leading up to the election, conservatives universally derided the polls released by the mainstream media as having a built-in liberal bias because the samples they used to model the electorate were similar to the 2008 electorate. In 2008 the electorate which gave Obama his victory had a partisan split (D/R/I) of 39/32/29 (D+7). But that was the height of Obamania, we argued, and there was no way the electorate in 2012 could be anywhere close to what it was then after 4 years of the disaster known as the Obama presidency. But we conservatives were wrong as the partisan split of those who cast a ballot in 2012 was 38/32/29, virtually identical to what it was in 2008. The question is why?
First, a little background. One of the best predictors of the partisan split of the electorate is party identification. Rasmussen tracks party ID on a monthly basis. At the end of October 2008, on the eve of the 2008 presidential election, Rasmussen recorded a +7.1% partisan advantage for the Democrat Party. Obama went on to win that election by 7.2%. Another indicator which is highly correlated with the partisan split of the electorate is the generic congressional ballot. Immediately prior to the 2008 election, RCP indicates that the Democrats enjoyed a 9% advantage on that key statistic.
This year the numbers couldn’t be more different. Rasmussen’s most recent party identification survey indicated Republicans had a 5.8% advantage, a swing of 12.9% in four years. Significantly, this number is far better for the GOP than it was prior to the 2010 Republican mid-term blowout. On the RCP generic congressional ballot, the GOP has moved into a virtual tie with a 0.2% advantage, a swing of 9.2% since 2008. Given such dramatic movement toward Republicans, it’s understandable that conservative pundits and bloggers (myself included) would cry foul over polls using samples with partisan splits similar to 2008. And yet when the dust settled, yesterday’s electorate was D+6 which resulted in Obama being comfortably re-elected while Republicans actually lost seats in the Senate when it appeared less than a year ago that they’d retake it easily. What happened?
In a word, turnout. While highly correlated, there is a difference between party identification and the partisan split of the electorate. To be counted in the electorate, you have to show up and vote. There are twice as many conservatives as liberals in the potential electorate, but too many of them stayed home and thus, weren’t part of yesterday’s actual voting electorate. I was in my car yesterday afternoon and Rush Limbaugh asked what he framed as a couple of rhetorical questions. In trying to reassure his listeners that Romney had this in the bag, he asked (paraphrasing) if they believed more Republicans would show up for Romney in 2012 than showed up for McCain in 2008, and if they believed fewer Democrats would show up for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. It was apparent that Limbaugh assumed the answer to both questions was a resounding "yes" and, consequently, more Romney voters + less Obama voters = GOP victory.
As I listened to this, however, I was skeptical of his assumed answer to the first question. I still don’t know anyone who was enthusiastic about voting for Romney. I understand it’s anecdotal, but everyone I know who voted for him (or was planning to vote for him) did it on the basis of him being the lesser of two evils. C4P readers know that I’ve written myriad posts over the last three and a half years in which I’ve shared my opinion that Romney would be a dismal, unelectable, cookie-cutter candidate who would inspire nobody, so I won’t get into that now. Suffice to say that to beat an incumbent president with unlimited campaign funds, a seasoned campaign team, and the entire apparatus of the executive branch at his beck and call, a candidate needs to offer a more compelling reason for voters to turn out for him than simply relying on the fact that he’s not Obama. For this reason — and others — I questioned Limbaugh’s assumption that there would be a huge turnout for Romney. There wasn’t, and that’s why he lost.
Limbaugh was correct on his second question. A comparison of 2008 election results and 2012 election results indicate Obama received about 9 million fewer votes yesterday than he did in 2008. But the data also indicate that the Romney-Ryan ticket received almost 2.3 million fewer votes nationally than the McCain-Palin ticket did in 2008. (Incidentally, that 2.3 million voter deficit is only marginally less than the number of votes by which Obama beat Romney in the popular vote.)
To be blunt, the Republican Establishment coronated a candidate who couldn’t inspire the rank and file of his own party to come out in sufficient numbers to replace the man responsible for four of the most miserable years this country has endured since Jimmy Carter. Maybe it’s due to bone-headed moves like this. Who knows. In any event, this is how a nation with more Republicans than Democrats and twice as many conservatives as liberals ends up with a D+6 voting electorate. It’s also how Republicans threw away their one opportunity to send Obama back to Chicago, take the gavel from Harry Reid, and get rid of Obamacare before it destroys our health care system and bankrupts the nation. Stupid party, indeed.
Update: This is great. Our old friend, The Aged P, nails it:
In 2008 the Republican president was extremely unpopular, there was a financial crash, a worrying war and a media pushing two narratives – the possibility of wiping away the scars of racism by electing a black president and an orchestrated demonisation of the GOP VP candidate with lies and sexist insults.
In 2012 the economy was still broken, the worrying war was still simmering away and the Democratic administration was racked with scandals. The Republican candidates were clean cut, inoffensive and apparently competent politicians completely acceptable to the GOP establishment and the media.
( Note -you might find this extremely helpful)
Explain why the 2012 Republican ticket lost the election and got three and a half million fewer votes than the 2008 ticket Please send your answers, accompanied with your apologies, to a certain lady in Wasilla, Alaska.
Update II: Mark Levin analyzes last night’s electoral debacle while passionately defending conservatism and the Tea Party. He also has some words for the GOPe, the Bush family, Karl Rove, and others of that ilk. Click image below to listen.