A point made here before is that we may not fully understand the reasons why Mitt Romney lost.
I’ve proffered a few gut feelings, but have cautioned against adopting Democratic talking points on immigration and other issues — in other words, becoming Democrat-lite — based on narratives which may be wrong and which are fed by self-serving liberal media.
Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal and Byron York in The Washington Examiner (h/t Power Line) point out that the popular conceptions may be wrong in important respects, and their conclusions contradict each other. I’m not sure we are at the point of understanding yet, or maybe the data can be sliced different ways.
Strassel argues that there was no general GOP turnout problem, now that the numbers are closer to final, but that there was a real demographic turnout problem:
The turnout myth comes from a statistic that has been endlessly repeated: Mitt Romney got fewer votes than John McCain in 2008. This isn’t quite true (Mr. Romney this week eked past the McCain totals), and in any event it is somewhat irrelevant. The Romney vote count reflects a nationwide voter turnout that was down nearly five percentage points from 2008. What matters is how the GOP did in the battleground states.
And there? Mr. Romney beat Mr. McCain’s numbers in every single battleground, save Ohio. In some cases, his improvement was significant…
Because what ought to scare the GOP is this: Even with higher GOP turnout in key states, even with Mr. Obama shedding voters, Democrats still won. Mr. Obama accomplished this by tapping new minority voters in numbers that beat even Mr. Romney’s better turnout.
In Florida, 238,000 more Hispanics voted than in 2008, and Mr. Obama got 60% of Hispanic voters. His total margin of victory in Florida was 78,000 votes, so that demographic alone won it for him. Or consider Ohio, where Mr. Romney won independents by 10 points. The lead mattered little, though, given that black turnout increased by 178,000 votes, and the president won 96% of the black vote. Mr. Obama’s margin of victory there was 103,000.
This is the demographic argument that is getting so much attention, and properly so. The Republican Party can hope that a future Democratic candidate won’t equal Mr. Obama’s magnetism for minority voters. But the GOP would do far better by fighting aggressively for a piece of the minority electorate.
And that, for the record, was the GOP’s real 2012 turnout disaster. Elections are about the candidate and the message, yes, but also about the ground game. Republicans right now are fretting about Mr. Romney’s failures and the party’s immigration platform—that’s fair enough. But equally important has been the party’s mind-boggling failure to institute a competitive Hispanic ground game. The GOP doesn’t campaign in those communities, doesn’t register voters there, doesn’t knock on doors. So while pre-election polling showed that Hispanics were worried about Obama policies, in the end the only campaign that these voters heard from—by email, at their door, on the phone—was the president’s.
Often missed in talk of the GOP’s “demographics problem” is that it would take relatively modest minority-voter shifts toward Republicans to return the party to a dominating force. The GOP might see that as the enormous opportunity it is, rather than a problem. The key to winning turnout is having more people to turn out in the first place.
York doesn’t see the data quite the same:
After moments of panic in the immediate aftermath of Mitt Romney’s defeat, some Republicans and conservatives are regaining their equilibrium on the issue of what the GOP should do about immigration and the Hispanic vote.
They’re looking at key questions from the campaign, like how much of Barack Obama’s victory was attributable to Hispanic support. They’re also looking at the Hispanic electorate itself to see how big a role immigration, versus a wide range of other issues, played in voting decisions. The goal, of course, is to win a larger portion of the Hispanic vote, but first to take a clear-eyed look at what actually happened on Nov. 6.
And the lesson for Republicans is: Take your time. Calmly reassess your positions. Don’t pander.
The first question is whether Hispanic voters gave Obama his margin of victory. In a recent analysis, the New York Times’ Allison Kopicki and Will Irving looked at vote totals in each state, plus the percentage of the vote cast by Hispanics, to see what the outcome would have been had Hispanics voted differently….
The bottom line is that even if Romney had made historic gains among Hispanic voters, he still would have lost the election. That means Romney underperformed among more than just Hispanic voters. And that means winning more Hispanic votes is far from the GOP’s only challenge.
Then there is the question of what motivates Hispanic voters…. The available data, Murray concluded, “paint a portrait that gives no reason to think that Republicans have an untapped pool of social conservatives to help them win elections.”
In addition, exit poll information suggests Hispanics voted on a number of issues beyond illegal immigration — and those issues favored Democrats. A majority of Hispanics who voted Nov. 6 favored keeping Obamacare. A majority favored higher taxes for higher earners. A majority — two-thirds, in fact — said abortion should be legal.
None of this is to say the GOP shouldn’t seek more Hispanic votes. There are opportunities; for example, Romney made significant inroads among Hispanic voters with college degrees. But the fact is, Republicans had a serious problem with lots of voters, as well as potential voters who didn’t go to the polls. The Hispanic vote was just part of it.
We’re barely two weeks out from the election.
While Strassel and York may not see the data exactly the same, they share my view — there is no reason to panic ourselves into pandering solutions which amount to surrender on policies based on faulty or unproven conclusions about why Mitt Romney lost.
Update: Common Cents blog has some good (close-to) final numbers and metrics:
- Some good news from the 2012 Election for Republicans
- Final? 2012 Presidential Election Statewide Results
- Hey State Controlled Media – The Country is actually trending Republican!