The Right Opinion

Obama Wins by Going Negative and Turning Out Base

By Michael Barone · Nov. 12, 2012

Lukewarm. That's the feeling I get from the election numbers.

Turnout was apparently down, at least as a percentage of eligible voters. The president was re-elected by a reduced margin. The challenger didn't inspire the turnout surge he needed.

Every re-elected president since Andrew Jackson has won with an increased popular vote percentage. Barack Obama didn't. He won 53 percent to 46 percent in 2008. His numbers as I write are 50 percent to 48 percent over Mitt Romney. That could go up to 51 percent to 48 percent when California finishes its count, which took five weeks in 2008.

Obama owes most of his electoral vote majority of 332 to negative campaigning. His strategists barraged the target states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia with attack ads against Romney for months.

The ads took a toll. Preliminary figures show that outside the eight clear target states, Obama's percentage declined by 2.8 points. In the firewall states, it was down by only 1.4 points and in five other target states by only 2.1 points.

That enabled him to win those three firewall states by a total of about 250,000 votes. A 2.8 percent swing everywhere would have left him narrowly ahead in the popular vote and with 290 electoral votes.

That would have been similar to the 286 electoral votes George W. Bush won when he was re-elected by 51 percent to 48 percent. But turnout that year was sharply up, from 105 million in 2000 to 122 million in 2004. Turnout rose to 131 million in 2008. It looks to be about 129 million this year.

Examination of county election results suggests that the Obama organization did an excellent job of increasing black voter turnout in the central cities and Southern rural areas in the target states. It also did a great job of turning out Hispanics in metro Denver and Las Vegas, and non-Cuban Hispanics in Miami-Dade County and Osceola and Orange Counties around Disney World in Florida.

Blacks are unlikely to record larger margins for Democrats ever again. But the increased Hispanic margin for Obama poses a serious challenge to Republicans in years ahead.

The Obamaites were less successful in making gains in university counties in the target states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. Under-30 voter support for Obama declined from 66 percent to 32 percent in 2008 to 60 percent to 37 percent in 2012.

This was enough for Obama to win, though he trailed among over-30s by two points after carrying them by one point in 2008. Will the Millennials stay Democratic? The baby boomers cast equal numbers of votes for George McGovern and Richard Nixon in 1972, while their elders favored Nixon by nearly 2-1. But this year, boomers (now age 45 to 64) backed Romney. Youthful political attitudes don't always endure.

Currently, Millennials are hard-pressed to find jobs and heavy with college loan debt, and Obamacare leaves them subsidizing their elders. A generation that likes to create its own world is not in sync with policies that treat them as tiny cogs in giant machines. White Millennials backed Romney by 52 percent to 44 percent.

Then consider the results for the House of Representatives. Not many people split their tickets these days, but the discontented voters who re-elected a Democratic president also returned a Republican House, probably by a similar popular vote margin.

There's an interesting contrast here with 1996. Then, a Democratic president was re-elected by a wider margin, while House Republicans held onto their majority by just a few seats.

This year, the Democratic president was re-elected with a smaller majority, while House Republicans have won or are leading in 235 districts, the most they held between 1994 and 2006. Based on the latest count, they lost only seven seats, even though Democratic redistricting plans cost them 11 seats in California, Illinois and Maryland.

This despite the fact that almost every House Republican supported Paul Ryan's Medicare reforms, which were supposed to cost Republicans votes – but didn't when they had a chance to explain that people over 55 aren't affected and that Obamacare cut $716 billion from Medicare.

So Obama owes most of his victory margin to negative personal campaigning, while Republicans held the House despite – or because of – their opposition to big-government policies.

The president claims a mandate because, as he said in 2009, “I won.” But Speaker John Boehner has some basis for claiming a mandate, too, as the fiscal cliff negotiations begin.

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5 Comments

blasalle in Salt Lake City said:

Mr. Barone - is the Republican party in general and the conservative movement in particular doomed to continue down this path? Yes, there is truth in what you said - why the Democrats won the White House. But what about what you did not say - why the Republicans lost? For two election cycles the Republican party has nominated a non-conservative candidate. Given the current economic situation how can you blame negative campaigning? The country knows only too well the state of things, negative campaigning couldn't hide that. They also know the president, and negative Republican adds couldn't change that. They were not given a better alternative. What needs to be discussed is why not?

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 10:58 AM

p3orion in Midland, Georgia said:

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." ~Abraham Lincoln

"No problem. All I need is 51% every four years." ~ Barack obama

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 11:31 AM

p3orion in Midland, Georgia said:

I agree the Republicans need to do more to bring Hispanic voters into our party. In general, they are socially more conservative than the Democrat platform, but we have not done enough to make them feel welcome.

I think we err in believing that Hispanic support hinges on ignoring or condoning illegal immigration. Republicans should take the lead in INCREASING legal immigration from Mexico and other countries, coupled with tighter restrictions against new immigrants availing themselves of our overly-generous entitlement programs.

The more new immigrants we bring in LEGALLY (ideally educated and self-sufficient ones) the less support there will be for illegals wandering across our borders with no official cognizance of their criminal, educational, medical, or financial situations, soon to be added to the growing dependent class.

If we are seen (correctly or not) as essentially opposing ALL immigration, our opponents can label that in any way they see fit, which generally means they will ascribe our policies as racism. We MUST do something to make that spin more difficult.

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 11:39 AM

pete in CA said:

Two ways to do things:

Go negative and destroy.

Go positive and build.

The choice we make tells the world who we are more than our religion, politics, sexual orientation, or skin color.

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 1:53 PM

Gregory in Yakima said:

Just prior to the election Michael Barone predicted a near sweep of swing states for Romney. A broken clock has a better record for being correct than this guy. "Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals."

Let's talk about those fundamentals. Romney/Ryan didn't even win their own states, not even close. Perhaps I should dig up some quotes for when Al Gore failed to carry Tennessee. Karl Rove spent 100 million dollars and didn't get a single candidate elected.

Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers explained a baseball season this way: "Every team will win at least a third of their games and every team will win at least a third of their games. It's what you do with the middle third that determines who goes to the World Series."

Romney and the rest of the conservative brainiacs didn't know that during the primaries or during the convention. Constantly harping on false conservative propaganda undermined their credibility too. Barone would like to console you with b.s. but it's conservatives who had no passion for their candidate and that cost them this election.

Barone is part of the problem, the cancer that needs to be cut away. As long as fools like him are informing your views you'll remain losers just like him.

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:41 PM