Being stuck on a train gave me about three hours to dissect exit polls. Components of the re-election of Barack Obama provide interesting insights into the Democrat ability to govern and the Republican effort to regain its footing.
Turnout needs to be the big story of the election. A few media sources are skirting the edges of the issue without fully delving in. Since the 2008 election the U.S. population has increased by 13.1 million. However, 13 million fewer people voted in 2012 than in 2008. As a result, 2012 Obama is close to losing to 2008 McCain.
While 9 million fewer people voted for Obama in 2012 than voted for 2008 Obama, the big impact affected the Republican effort. Turnout in places, like Texas, went down 11 percent from 2008. Mitt Romney garnered fewer total votes than did the maligned George W. Bush of 2004. If Republican turnout had hit the levels achieved by the artful GOTV efforts of Karl Rove, Mitt Romney would probably today be the President-elect.
Consider that Republicans held on to their House majority. If the margins of those victories in congressional districts replicated the 2004 level of GOP turnout, the totals would have been enough to overwhelm the Obama advantage in the urban islands scattered in the swing states.
Demography drives destiny. Heading into Election Day we knew that an analyst could reliably predict the voting behavior of a person by knowing a few key pieces of information, such as race or practice of religion. Exit polls prove that the external differences are becoming hardened political divisions.
If you are white, married, and at least nominally religious, you vote Republican. If you are unmarried, something other than white, and an atheist, Obama is your guy.
The Democrat winning coalition looks impenetrable, but it has big holes. Obama carried the majority of people with minimal education and, generally speaking, the maximum education. People lacking high school diplomas, and those holding doctorates, favor Obama. It is the broad middle that supported Romney. Similarly, if a household earned less than $50,000 annually, or was among the very wealthy, that home pulled the lever for Obama. The middle went for Romney, the problem is there are more poor now than ever before.
Obama carried the day among people who did not work full-time – the young, the elderly, and the un or under employed. People with full time jobs supported Romney.
There is no mandate. If I told you a candidate lost among voters over the age of 40, and got lower totals than he did in previous elections among men & women and whites & blacks, decisively lost among independents, and was crushed on the top two issues of the campaign, would you think that candidate won? Obama did. Add the aforementioned lower turnout levels to the tepid support and it is obvious that Obama won no mandate for his policies.
Undecided voters did not behave as usual. Nine percent of voters chose their candidate in the final days of the campaign. This represents a much larger portion than in any other recent election. Usually, the undecided ultimately reject the incumbent, but not this time.
Catholics failed. To be fair, the mythical “Catholic vote” typically mirrors the national trends. Catholics are just too big and too diverse to act as the bloc commentators hope them to be. Yet, 2012 should have been different. Church leaders vehemently opposed Obama for the blatant infringements on religious liberties contained in Obamacare, and Obama is the most radically pro-abortion President in the history of the Union. Allegedly pro-life Roman Catholics favored Obama by 2 percentage points.
It was a bad election for the pro-life community. Reversing years of gains, 59 percent of exit poll respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. A mere 13 percent adhered to the position – that abortion should be illegal in all cases – now better known for buffoonish candidates than principled people of faith.
Obama won because of Sandy and empathy. We already mentioned that 9 percent of voters decided late in the campaign and apparently his handling of the hurricane that boosted Obama. As an aside I find this ironic because the Obama response was to support and aid state-level efforts rather than manipulate recovery from the federal level.
Empathy stands out as the thing people most liked about Obama. Though distrusted on the top two election issues of the economy and the budget deficit (Obama was defeated by 5 percent and 34 percent respectively) Obama had an overwhelming edge among voters who thought “cares about people like me” was the most important characteristic in a President. 21 percent of voters rated empathy as the most important trait, and of them, four out of five favored Obama. The nanny state has arrived, and the Mitt’s “47 percent,” which is actually 49 percent, is quite happy.
People are getting used to Obamacare. The level of opposition dropped to 49 percent, the first time opposition can no longer said to be the view of the majority since its passage.
More than three quarters of Americans (77 percent) think the nation’s economy is “not so good” or “poor.” More than half, (52 percent) think the country is “seriously off on the wrong track.” Those numbers improved from 2008 when they were 93 percent and 62 percent respectively. Still, they should have been enough to sink Obama.
There was a blip in black support for Obama. Since first appearing on the scene, the black community has maintained near unanimous supporIn conclusion, Obama eked out a victory.t for Obama. For four years, black support for Obama fluttered between 95 and 97 percent. Black women are still there, at 96 percent in the exit polls. But support among black men has dipped to 87 percent. The biggest dive, by age is among black men ages 18 to 29. Keeping this in perspective, Obama retains overwhelming support from young black men, but relative to the broader black community Obama has lost a fair amount of support. It is no “game changer,” but it is interesting. Considering that the unemployment rate for young black men is about twice the national average I suppose we should be surprised his support has fallen further.
In conclusion, Obama eked out a victory that Republicans failed to nab. No one seems particularly excited about it. Obama may have won states like Wisconsin, but those same dairyland voters put their state government completely in the hands of Scott Walker and his Republicans. The Obama agenda has no mandate. Left leaning commentators are, and will, carp about Republican problems with minority communities, but the fact is, Romney had a problem motivating the Republican base. Republican turnout cost him the election, and his inability to close the deal with independents who soured on Obama, clinched it for the President