From the mailbag: “Why did Mitt Romney lose? I thought President Obama had everything going against him?”
President Obama did have a lot going against him– not all of which is directly attributable to him, but this isn’t about what is or isn’t his fault, it’s about what affected his chances at reelection. I won’t rehash everything he had going against him, but generally speaking Americans like him a lot less and approve of him a lot less than they did in 2008.
Click here to look at a really neat-o chart showing how various groups voted in 2012 compared to 2008. Obama lost support among both sexes, those under 30, those over 44, independents, whites, blacks, every education group (except those with no high school diploma), those earning $50K or more, every marital group, every ideological group, Christians, Jews, and those who self-identified as having “no religion.” A lot was going against him. He lost a lot of his supporters (~6.5 million at last count) from 2008.
It just wasn’t enough to cost him the election.
We don’t elect leaders based on whether they’re trending up or down. We elect the guys who get the most votes. And so Obama did what Bush did in 2004: try to increase his turnout. Find out who likes you more than the other guy, and get as many of them as possible to vote. Then keep your fingers crossed that the other guy isn’t as good at activating voters as you are. It worked.
Let me address the term “activating.” One of the lessons from my old government class is that campaigns aim to do three things: conversion (change minds in your favor), activation (getting people to participate/vote), and reinforcement (intensifying beliefs that you already hold). Campaigns generally aren’t very good at conversion. Campaigns generally are very good at reinforcement, even though that sometimes means reinforcing what your opponents think of you. The crux of the campaign is activation: the guys who are better at turning potential voters into actual voters are going to win those close campaigns.
And simply put, Obama’s people were better at that than Romney’s people. Obama set up more offices than Romney did in the swing states. Obama spent more than twice the money Romney spent in the swing states. And if you look closely at the top of the last map, you’ll note that Obama showed more than twice as many ads as Romney did in the swing states.
Some might argue that a 3% victory is not a mere matter of one side being better at getting out the vote. Well, no, it isn’t– there are other issues. But you’ll never convince me that Romney’s side milked every vote they possibly could out of the swing states– not when Romney ended up with slightly fewer popular votes than McCain did in 2008 (at least based on the latest results I’ve seen).
So what could Romney and the GOP have done differently? If they want to know that, they can contact me privately and pay my consulting fee.