The Right Opinion

Obama's Numbers Went Down, but Romney Never Inspired Voters to Vote

By Michael Barone · Dec. 27, 2012

In combing through the results of the 2012 election – apparently finally complete, nearly two months after the fact – I continue to find many similarities between 2012 and 2004, and one enormous difference.

Both of the elections involved incumbent presidents with approval ratings hovering around or just under 50 percent facing challengers who were rich men from Massachusetts (though one made his money and the other married it).

In both cases, the challenger and his campaign seemed confident he was going to win – and had reasonable grounds to believe so.

In both elections, the incumbent started running a barrage of negative ads defining the challenger in the spring. And in both elections, the incumbent had at least one spotty debate performance.

In both elections, each candidate concentrated on a more or less fixed list of target states, and in both elections the challenger depended heavily on outside groups' spending that failed to achieve optimal results.

The popular vote margins were similar – 51 to 48 percent for George W. Bush in 2004, 51 to 47 percent for Barack Obama in 2012.

The one enormous difference was turnout. Turnout between the 2000 and 2004 elections rose from 105 million to 122 million – plus 16 percent. Turnout between the 2008 and 2012 elections fell from 131 million to 128 million – minus 2 percent.

Turnout is a measure of organization but also of spontaneous enthusiasm.

In 2004, John Kerry got 16 percent more popular votes than Al Gore had four years before. But he lost because George W. Bush got 23 percent more popular votes than he had four years before.

Kerry voters were motivated more by negative feelings for Bush than by positive feelings for their candidate. They disagreed with Bush's major policies and disliked him personally. The Texas twang, the swagger, the garbled sentence structure – it was like hearing someone scratch his fingers on a blackboard.

Bush voters were more positively motivated. Political reporters had a hard time picking this up. His job rating was weak, but Bush voters tended to have a lot of warmth for him.

He had carried us through 9/11, he had confronted our enemies directly, he had pushed through with bipartisan support popular domestic measures like his education bill and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

His criticism of his opponents was measured and never personal, and he blamed none of his difficulties on his predecessor (who had blamed none of his on his).

This affection evaporated pretty quickly, in the summer of 2005, with scenes of disorder in the streets of Baghdad and New Orleans. But it was there in 2004, and you can see it in that 23 percent turnout increase.

The 2012 election was different. Barack Obama got 6 percent fewer popular votes than he had gotten in 2008. And Mitt Romney got only 1 percent more popular votes than John McCain had four years before.

In retrospect, it looks like both campaigns fell short of their turnout goals. Yes, examination of election returns and exit polls indicates that the Obama campaign turned out voters where it really needed them.

That enabled him to carry Florida by 1 percent, Ohio by 3 percent, Virginia by 4 percent, and Colorado and Pennsylvania by 5 percent. Without those states, he would have gotten only 243 electoral votes and would now be planning his presidential library.

But the conservative bloggers who argued that the Obama campaign's early voting numbers were below target may have been right. If Mitt Romney had gotten 16 percent more popular votes than his predecessor, as John Kerry did, he would have led Obama by 4 million votes and won the popular vote 51 to 48 percent.

Romney, like Kerry, depended on voters' distaste for the incumbent; he could not hope to inspire the devotion Bush enjoyed in 2004 and that Obama had from a diminished number in 2008.

But to continue this counterfactual scenario, if Obama had won 23 percent more popular votes this year than in 2008, he would have beaten Romney by 85 million to 69 million votes and by 54 to 44 percent.

In reality, Obama's vote and percentage went down. Considering what happened in Bush's second term, that suggests a course of caution and wariness for the re-elected president and his party.



richard ryan in Lamar,Missouri said:

Michael, this is a pitiful piece of writing! I am a senior citizen nearing 80 years of age, totally dependant on SS. I found Romney to be very inspiring regardless of what idiot talking heads such as your self say. The problem is the fact that we have too many dumb-asses voting who do not bother to educate themselves on the issues. I saw someone post on Facebook just a few days ago that Mormons do not celebrate Christmas, a statement that is so off the wall it is breathtaking. When you are combating that kind of stupidity it is pretty much game over. When you have millions of ignorant boobs, and a lying, liberal water carrying media, our republic is pretty much done for.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 11:03 AM

billy396 in ohio replied:

The ignorance of the majority of American citizens is indeed breathtaking. Most of thse people couldn't wipe their own noses without expert directions. ANYONE stupid enough to vote to reelect Obozo after his dismal performance in his first term is a traitor to our country. Obozo ran in 2008 as a deficit hawk. He promised numerous times that he would REDUCE te deficit. He had NO SUCH intentions. He called Bush irresponsible and unpatriotic for allowing federal spending to reach such high levels, then proceeded to spend more than Bush spent in eight fulll years in exactly three years, two months or Obozo spending. a full 79% of his "stimulus" funds went to his campaign donors and his bundlers. THAT'S the Chicago way. Promise big and STAY bought. This country is finished as a free, Constitutional Republic, UNLESS the people wake up and impeach Obozo, which he has earned many times over. Of course, he gets the black-skin privilege, which absolves him of any crime he commits.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 11:18 AM

LibertyIsUS in Arlington, VA replied:

Hey Bill, just what is the "black skin privilege?"

Friday, December 28, 2012 at 7:09 AM

Jim D of Alabama in Daphne said:

I came to like Mitt Romney a lot. When people whined that he was savaging his opponents in the Primaries, I made the case that I wanted someone who wasn't afraid to throw punches. I wanted some one who wanted to win. I believed he was the only won sufficiently free of "baggage" to have a chance in the Media Slander Zone. But, when it came down to it, Mitt Romney and the people around him didn't have the balls to fight Obama. Throughout the election they continued with the incredibly dishonest party line description of Obama as some well intentioned gentleman, who was good at heart, but honestly mistaken in his policies. This is the lie that cost our country its future. Why SHOULD anyone get off their *ss to vote for someone so fearful that they would carry out such a fraud. The American people know what Obama is. He is not erroneous in his efforts to build us up. He is purposefully and successfully gutting our strength. He is not failing to help people. He is intentionally hurting them for the sake of his communist ideology.
We need fighters for the political process or we will forced, and soon, to a bloodier process...those of us who will not be slaves.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 11:35 AM

LibertyIsUS in Arlington, VA replied:


The answer to your question is that any patriot who cares more for his country and the dearness of liberty, yet in the face of this great trial stayed home from the poll, deserves not our thanks. In the words of Thomas Paine:

"By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a ravaged country — a depopulated city — habitations without safety, and slavery without hope — our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented."

Friday, December 28, 2012 at 7:16 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

It's going to be hard to overcome a stupid liberal electorate and a bunch of fools who stayed home because Romney didn't excite them or because he was a Mormon. I don't care if the candidate excites me or not, I just want someone who will make an honest effort to turn this country around. This excitement BS is a sorry excuse to vote for anyone.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 5:32 PM

LibertyIsUS in Arlington, VA replied:

Here, here! Old Sarge. I am with you. The choice of the last election (and I use that phrase with trepidation) was between liberty and tyranny. Those who did not vote nonetheless voted for tyranny, for that is the result of their non-vote. Thank you cowards, but fear not for yourselves; those of us who will not lightly bear the chains of oppression will fight for the liberation of this country from the shackles of government.

Friday, December 28, 2012 at 7:20 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Michael, Michael, Michael,---I didn't read your blog either, but I'll say this: We had story after story of American Free Market success, in Tampa;Mia Love, Arturo Davis(No relation), Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney-They all succeeded, by investing their own capital, at risk, to make profits, dividends, and cap. gains!!!That is the American way of business. Any VOTES contrary to OUR WAY, are votes for misery & failure!!!

Friday, December 28, 2012 at 7:48 AM

William in Florida said:

Truth be told most americans do not vote and the ones that do vote are too busy surviving at a job or concentrating at living off government hand-outs!!! My opinion is both parties have failed us! We The People must revolt against all the crap piled on our shoulders. The political arena claims we are at fault but "I do not remember being asked if its o.k if our govt. sends our money to other countries or big corp. bailouts or even my next door nieghbor that brags about the 5 phones she has paid for by the govt. We The People own this country but over time lost control and I for one want the control of the people back. I am not college educated but I know how not to spend what I do not have. As far as the economy the answer is SIMPLE!!!! "Get rid of all regulation and polocies holding growth back" I know business owners that would hire tommorrow except bad regulations are stopping them. It's obvious our govt. does not care about our welfare / just what they can take from us. A perfect example: Obamacare is not a requirement for the President nor the poloticians even after they retire! WHY???? What's good for us should be good for them!

Friday, December 28, 2012 at 10:07 AM

HP in Kalispell, MT said:

A good analysis assuming all voting was above board. The fact that this election has yielded NO serious discussion of fraud, at all, leads me to believe there was much more than usual! A good share of the conservative votes that were missing could probably be found if anyone was looking. I'm sure AG Holder is all over it! I know we have an uninformed electorate, but they we're smart enough to dump Carter easily. BHO's crews were smart enough to just eke out the votes necessary where needed. It's a shame they weren't more greedy. At least a landslide would have generated some interest.

Friday, December 28, 2012 at 3:16 PM