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USA 2012 Presidential Election Wrap

November 7, 2012

2012-11-07 0400 USA ET

In hindsight, it was all over at 7.30pm, not at 11.10 when FNC called Ohio and 10 minutes later CNN did. Barack Obama was leading Florida by 5 points with 30% of the vote in at the early stage. It had to be reversed to suggest a Mitt Romney swing was on, and that’s ignoring the fact he still had to win the state. It looks like Obama will narrowly hold it, while Obama surprisingly held Virginia. Both Florida and Virginia appeared a lock for Romney in the weeks leading in.

Clearly there was a sudden late swing to Obama in the final days. That led to a panic with Romney heading to Florida to campaign and then to the unlikely Pennsylvania. While the Republicans said it was merely to expand the map, the Democrats saw that he needed an escape. It proved that it was Florida itself in trouble, not the expected Ohio that saw Romney rush out some TV ads stating Jeep were moving factories to China. That ad was quickly dismissed by the car companies. They were in fact broadening their manufacturing from their plants in Italy, and potentially to expand in Ohio as well.

Why the swing? Hurricane Sandy probably had the most to do with it, along with the economic conditions that were beginning to make Obama’s rhetoric of a much improved economy believable.

After winning North Carolina and Indiana, and fighting in Virginia and Ohio, Romney still needed Colorado. While there was some arguing on the networks about the early call of Ohio, it was moot because Colarado went Obama easily. Even if claims could be made on Ohio, he was still 3 states short. The only solace for Romney and Republicans is that while the electoral college is a blow-out, it was only achieved on thin margins. FL, VA and OH are 1-2%. The nationwide popular vote is running 50-49 to Obama – a drop of approximately 9 million votes since 2008’s 53-47 Obama over McCain.

The Polls

It proved the polls were largely right, especially once averaged out. The only trend that could be declared wrong was that Ohio proved better for Republicans than Virginia and Florida did, not the other way around. In possible swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin, the polls proved correct. Repubs never a hope.

Before the election, a few key Repubs like Karl Rove and Dick Morris hinged their predictions on over-sampling of Democrats. While the logic is there that a D+7 polling would not translate to an actual election, defining party affiliation is still subjective as is the vote itself. A swing voter might call themselves Dem or Rep depending on their most recent vote. So party affiliation is quite irrelevant in that sense. All that matters is that the sample is random and the right questions are asked to determine “likely voter”. Note that Rasmussen Reports does not consider this party sampling for these reasons. Hence, they are often the most accurate.

The other argument the likes of, especially, Morris made is the that after the random sample, the results are weighted based on turn-out of earlier elections. While that’s important, it only explains some of the out-lying polls that, for example, had Obama up by 5% in Ohio, and just looked at the last election rather than an average of the last 4. Again, that’s all nonsense if the “likely voter” questions are good. Then no prediction or weighting is required. The turn-out proved much like 2008. Overall, the polls were so consistent that showed Obama leading critical swing states, particularly Ohio.

Margin of error is also often quoted. Yes, it’s relevant in a standalone poll. No, in a trending or tracking poll, especially over a long term. The margin of error, simply by its concept, can’t be consistently 3% out for one side all the time. We learn that for these long standing tracking polls, there really isn’t any margin of error when looking at the exact trend, especially when it’s being averaged out over a few days, as the top polling companies do.

Romney’s Failure

Romney’s issue all along was he stood for nothing. Ironically, the Democrats attacked him as “Moderate Mitt”, and that is someone you want as President. To get the nomination, Romney had to move right to win the evangelicals in the primaries, specifically issues of abortion and illegal immigrants. Since then – as he’s often done through his political career – he was very defensive and played the polls. In hindsight, he needed to stand strong on his moderate ideals, and argue to the voters in the primaries that it’s about electing someone to beat Obama, not about electing someone representative of fanatical party base. Facts are that social change does move slowly and it’s nearly always a response to the mood of the people, not enacted as a political directive. If Romney didn’t get the nomination by sticking to his key convictions, so be it. Because the end result saw a candidate almost devoid of real passion and certainty.

Romney’s other big flaw is not answering Obama’s attacks. Actually, the whole party is at fault. The “Tea Party” was hijacked by religious nutters, gun advocates and anti-immigrants, when it was actually born on the basic premise of less spending and lower taxes. Because there’s no central organisation of it – it’s more a movement – there was no one repelling the attacks or weeding out the bad apples, so the mindset seeped in of a generally extremist and fringe movement as the Dems easily argued.

Some of the personal attacks went unrepelled as well. Notably the auto bankruptcy in which Romney did state in a New York Times op-ed to government guarantee the auto companies as they emerged from managed bankruptcy. In the third debate, both candidates went at it about it, eventually settling for people to look it up. Shockingly, neither CNN or FNC did in their specific “fact checks” segments after the telecast or even on their websites, while Chris Wallace on FNC did mention it only in his summary. Why Romney did not flaunt it the next day is mystifying. Some of Obama’s puerile attacks, like the bayonets and horses, begged a “Really, Mr President, really. Are you serious”? type of rebuttal to such a condescending comment. Instead Romney soaked it up. On Obama’s “tax the rich”, Romney should have said “how much %, how much money will it raise, how quickly will it cut the debt”. On Obama extending Medicare for 8 years, Romney should have said “…and then what? Does it collapse? See, you’re trying to get it past your term, I’m trying to save it for all Amerians”.

Then there’s the gaffs. The question that was answered with “binders full of women” should have been spun into getting the economy right, that the most oppressive factor on pay equality is poor employment opportunities. The 47% could be spun to “the only relevant 47 figure are the 47 million on food-stamps and I’m sure each one would prefer not to be a victim of your economy”. The “self-deportation” in the primaries was so clumsy. Again, he sought to appeal to the right… and also to distinguish himself from Rick Perry. In reality, he should have aligned with Perry as it would have shown that if there’s two strong Repubs on the issue that maybe it does need a rethink. Actually, 3 Repubs, because Newt Gingrich was also moderate on illegal immigrants.

Obama’s Strength

In contrast to Romney, Obama stuck to his guns, even if they were largely petty and “small ball” and based on smearing his opponent as unworthy of replacing him. Astonishingly, 76% of Obama TV ads were negative. Rhetoric like taxing the rich to pay a little more and “fair share” is nonsense given that Obama’s talking of an increase of a few percent. Already 10% of Americans pay 70% of federal tax, so arguably they pay a fair share now. The “war on women” and the auto bailouts were highly targeted to achieve the slim, pivotal path required. Republicans slurred and stumbled all their responses, made worse by two senate candidates talking about legitimate rape and god’s will. It’s not enough to repudiate those candidates, you must repudiate the opposition’s narrative. That never happened with those candidates infiltrating the race. Ultimately, the Repubs never regained the senate as they fully expected. That failure should be the subject of greatest review. Beating an incumbent president – especially one that never faced a primary challenge – was always tough and, historically, nigh on impossible. The senate was supposed to have been a certainly, and they lost seats.

Make no mistake, the Democrats meticulously planned and executed Obama’s re-election from four years out, right to the point of losing the House mid-term. The Dems wasted a year on Obamacare, and did nothing on immigration so they could use it as a wedge issue to horde the latino vote. As soon as the House was lost, up pops Obama allowing the Bush tax cuts to continue and then to slam the Repubs as favouring the rich. Then came attempts to introduce tax-raising bills knowing Repubs would block them, allowing the Dems to label them as obstructionist. It’s been the #1 strategy and continued to the very final days. Oh, and to blame much of the economic hole on GW Bush, which still resonated because Romney was light on specifics. The best debate question came from the Town Hall debate where the voter asked what separated Romney from GW Bush. Had the Dems held both Houses, Obama would have been 100% accountable for any economic woes and most likely sunk without the ability to blame Repubs on anything.

The Future

Since the Repups held the House, there won’t be much change. The economy will improve naturally. Business was holding off just to wait for the uncertainty to clear. Part of that eased when Obamacare was upheld by the Supreme Court, and now the election has confirmed the presidency. Obama will bank on the economic resurgence and hope to win the House back in the mid-terms. Then his last 2 years will be his legacy years, trying to get immigration and any other grand schemes like cap-and-trade done.

If Obama fails to regain such control, he’ll have no choice than to compromise as he proclaimed in the unnervingly familiar rhetoric of his victory speech, the content of which was totally shunned the past four years. He’s been the divider, not the healer that greeted the world in 2008.

Note that he was the wrong President at the wrong time. He ran to end the Iraq war and engage social change with Health Care and Immigration. By the time – 18 months later – he was elected, Iraq was already solved and the economy had collapsed. This huge lead-in is a flaw in the American system. McCain proved the wrong candidate too.

The presidency doesn’t appear a job that Obama’s enjoyed, and he’ll enjoy it even less if he chooses to be further mired. If dealing with Republicans is his destiny, a far greater legacy to achieve is one via a bipartisan process. Ask Bill Clinton.

As for the Republicans, they are at a paradox. Clearly the demographic of the nation is changing. It was acknowledged that they’d need an electorate of 75% white to win. The turn-out proved exactly as polls suggested at 72%. With 95% of black and 70% of latino going Obama, the Republicans must begin to expand their base. Latino’s are, ironically, a better fit for Republicans given their independent, hard-work ethic and high devotion to christianity. They just want to live, work hard, and leave something for their children, so the more libertarian and small government side of the party must emerge, with the socially conservative side to recede.

Most of all, the Republicans need younger, exciting candidates. The biggest tell-tale that this election would see Obama re-elected was the weak field the Republicans offered in the primaries. Quite simply, it was rubbish. The higher profile candidates obviously read the tea-leaves and saw the weak chance, so bailed. That was consistently the biggest news at the time, not of those that chose to run.

There are some young guns Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal emerging. They’ll need to lead the way, and then be prepared to face the party that not only just elected the first black president, it will be the party that will want to elect the first female president. With Bill Clinton campaigning hard for Obama after there seemed once great animosity between the two camps as a result of the 2008 Democratic primaries, you know it’s to bank on Obama’s endorsement of Hillary for 2016.

2012-11-07 0700 Update

In response to his failed prediction of a Romney landslide, Dick Morris has said the current voting model is the “new America”. The increase of black (11% to 13%), latino (8 to 10) and young voters (17 to 19) of 2008 was maintained in 2012. That also means Obama lost some of the white vote to make the election so close. That was validated by exit polls.

Morris also said the Republicans can never win again unless they embrace this new America, and also quaintly said that Obama really did inherit a mess – this time his “own mess”.

2012-11-11 0600 Update

Four days later and Florida is decided for Obama. The popular vote is also finalised with Obama winning 50.6% to 47.0%. The raw figures tell a darker story with Obama dropping nearly 8 million votes from 2008 (69.5 to 61.8 million), while Romney dropped 1.5 million votes from McCain (59.9 to 58.6). He also scored less of the Mormon vote. So much for an “energised” Republican base. Obama can’t really claim too much of a mandate given the reduced vote to get re-elected – the first for an incumbent since FDR in 1944. It just showed that the electorate is sick of both parties and elected the lesser of the two evils.

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