The 2012 Presidential Election officially ended around Christmas, when the last of the ballots from New York City (which was challenged with conducting an election in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) were counted. Now that we have the official results, it’s worth analyzing them against the 2008 and 2004 Presidential elections.
Official Vote Count (Obama – 66 million votes, Romney – 61 million votes)
Immediately after the election, there were stories about the Republican base not turning out since the Romney vote at that time was less than what John McCain (the 2008 Republican nominee) had received. In fact, there were millions of early/absentee/”Hurricane Sandy” votes that had not been counted by Election Day. We now officially know (with New York being the last state to certify its results) that President Obama was re-elected 51-47% against Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney actually received nearly a million MORE votes than John McCain did, while President Obama received nearly 4 million votes less than he did in 2008. The overall turnout in this election was 129 million. While this turnout figure was 2% less than President Obama’s 2008 win, it still represents a 6% increase in turnout from the 2004 Presidential election.
Democratic “Electoral College Lock” ?
For the Republicans, there is a “good news/bad news” situation it must face in the aftermath of the 2012 elections. Just as the Democrats had to contend with an Electoral College seemingly stacked against them between the 1968 and 1988 Presidential elections, Republicans have faced a similar situation working against them since 1992, now that they can no longer count on states like California, Illinois, and New Jersey that were once part of their Electoral College “lock.”
So what is the Democrats’ version of the “Electoral College lock ?” Ever since Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, Democrats have consistently carried 18 states, plus the District of Columbia. This means that for six Presidential elections in a row, they are guaranteed a “head start” of 242 of the 270 electoral votes they need to elect a President. Furthermore, three more states worth 15 electoral votes (Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) have only voted Republican once in the last 20 years, and even then, the Republican carried the state by less than 10,000 votes. It’s against this “electoral head start” that a Republican Presidential candidate has had to compete. To make their odds even longer, there are only 13 states (totaling 102) electoral votes have consistently voted Republican since 1992. That leaves 19 swing states, although if you exclude former President Bill Clinton’s strength among Southern white voters, there are truly only 7 “swing” states now: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia. All of these states voted for Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential election.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Republicans are shut out from the Presidency. For one thing, even the states that have consistently voted Democratic since 1992 have not done so by wide margins. President Obama’s re-election hinged on his carrying every one of the seven swing states, as well as Pennsylvania. But even in those 8 states, the Presidential vote was 51-48% for Obama. When George W Bush was re-elected President in 2004, these same states voted 51-48% for Bush. It can be argued that since then, Democrats have been much more successful with motivating their voters (and a critical mass of Independents) to support them on Election Day than the Republicans have: Obama in 2012 received 12% more votes than John Kerry did, while Mitt Romney only received 1% more votes than George W. Bush. This (increasing the GOP turnout in those states) is obviously something that needs to be top priority for the Republican Party. And it’s not like these states are alien territory for the Republicans: only Colorado and New Hampshire have Democratic governors.
While “recapturing” swing states is important, politics is never a static thing: a generation ago, no one would have thought West Virginia was out of reach for the Democrats, just like the idea of a Democrat carrying Virginia in a Presidential race seemed far-fetched. Therefore, there are other states that should be added to the GOP radar from an offensive perspective: there are 5 more states (Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin), where President Obama defeated Mitt Romney 54-45% and John Kerry defeated George W Bush 51-48% in 2004. However, while these states have a Democratic Presidential voting streak, the Obama campaign’s “turnout machine” wasn’t as aggressive/successful here: if you look at the vote totals in these states between 2004 and 2012, Democratic turnout only increased 6% over 2004, while Republican turnout simultaneously DECREASED 7%. Plus, these states have voted Republican at the statewide and legislative level.
Finally, gearing up for 2014
While the wide open Presidential race is important, so will be the 2014 midterm elections. In the US Senate, about 2/3 of the seats up for election are currently held by the Democrats. Similarly, there will be several Democratic House freshmen who were elected with the help of strong Democratic turnout. In 2014, there will not be a Presidential race at the top of the ballot to motivate base voters like there was in 2012.
Finally, the state houses will feature some lively contests as well. The political muscle (or perceived lack of) possessed by labor unions will be tested in Michigan and Wisconsin. In California and Illinois, tax increases passed by Democratic chief executives/legislators will be evaluated by the voters. And Republicans have potentially tough fights to retain the state houses in Florida and Texas. All in all, it will be an interesting mid term election.