Michael Barone | Why I was wrong

I was wrong because the outcome of the election was not determined, as I thought it would be, by fundamentals. Some fundamentals, I thought, favored Obama. Americans like to think well of their presidents (and Obama’s approval ratings rose, slightly, over the fall) and many, perhaps most, Americans believe it would be a bad thing for Americans to be seen as rejecting the first black president.

On the other hand, most voters opposed Obama’s major policies and found unsatisfactory the sluggish economic recovery that seems to them to be the result—negative factors that seem to have been confirmed by responses to exit poll questions as they were by responses to poll questions for many months now. It is true that Obama won a second term by a reduced percentage and electoral vote margin, making him the first president to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1916, nearly a century ago. This is not, I think, a grand triumph for his ideas or ideology. It is a triumph for his campaign strategists.

What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics.

The Obama campaign strategists—and congratulations to them, by the way—argued that they would win by organizing and turning out the vote in the key states that would determine the outcome of the election. They had no illusions that they could expand the president’s appeal beyond the 53% of the popular vote of the 365/359 electoral votes they won in 2008; on the contrary, they conceded Indiana’s  11 electoral votes and the single electoral vote of the Nebraska 2nd congressional district even before the campaign started. They didn’t contest the 15 electoral votes of North Carolina very much after holding the 2012 Democratic National Convention there; they concentrated in their pre-convention negative anti-Romney advertising and in their organizational efforts on a three-state firewall of the next three states in order of Obama 2008 percentage, Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13).


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