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14 Lessons From 2012

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Obama will get better. Politics keeps getting worse.

Image by Jerome Delay / AP

Being president of the United States is a difficult job. Hard decisions land on your desk. Some of them are choices between terrible and dreadful. This is especially true in matters of national security and foreign policy.

President Obama had no experience in executive governance or matters of national security when he took office in 2009. It showed. Since then, he’s been through a hundred bad/worse choices and found people throughout the government whose advice is invaluable and necessary when such choices have to be made (see Mark Bowden’s book for more on this).

President Obama will be better at the job in these next four years, as presidents George W. Bush and William Clinton and Ronald Reagan were better at the job in their second terms. One hopes he cleans house and actually manages the federal government as well.

He wrote the best piece of campaign journalism of the year. He correctly identified the election’s hinge (wavering white voters generally and working-class whites specifically). The Obama campaign’s concern, obviously, was to keep them from defenestrating the president.

Edsall described how Team Obama would address this problem: They would make Romney unacceptable. Some of the wavering whites might then vote for Obama as the lesser of two evils. But the higher purpose was to have working-class whites say to hell with it and not vote at all.

Combined with the Obama campaign’s much vaunted GOTV operation (which did indeed do a good job of getting its voters out), the “make Mitt unacceptable” strategy was the key to President Obama’s victory.

A significant slice stayed home. The aptly named Sean Trende has a good piece on this today at Real Clear Politics. Turnouts were basically flat among black, Hispanic and Asian (and other non-white) voters. Altogether, they comprised 28% of the electorate.

Seventy-two percent of the electorate was white, which was down from 2008 by 2% (exactly as demographics would predict). But in study after study, the pre-election polling seemed to suggest that the white electorate would be 75% of the total (Gallup had it as high as 78% at one point).

In order to win, Romney needed the electorate to be 75% white and he needed to get at least 60% of that vote (which would give him 45% to begin with; add a fifth of the other vote and he gets 50%). In the event, the electorate was 72% white and Romney got 59% of that, which left him short of a popular vote majority and thus doomed his chances in the Electoral College vote.

Part of the reason for the falloff in white vote, I suppose, can be attributed to the fact that in 36 states (at least), the winner is more or less known well in advance of the election. My vote for Romney in New York was irrelevant because Obama was going to win New York even if I voted 100 times. My daughter’s vote in Austin was likewise irrelevant; Romney was going to win Texas regardless (I don’t know who she voted for). And Superstorm Sandy obviously depressed turnout generally in the Northeast.

But the other part of the reason is that the Obama campaign was successful in convincing wavering and working-class whites that Romney was not, as they say, “on their side.” And the Romney campaign’s failure to combat this argument left some of these wavering white voters with the idea that Romney wasn’t a particularly attractive alternative. So why bother? The Obama campaign’s white vote “suppression” effort was successful.


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