The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Get down off that ledge
Tom Smith

This analysis by Sean Trende (apparently pronounced 'trendy', at least on POTUS XM, which interviewed him this morning) is your required reading for today. Just a preliminary analysis to be sure, but the short version is (with hyperbole supplied by me) no, this was not some transmorgifying, cosmic paradigm shifting election, caused by a tectonic shift in American demography which will inevitably lead to a republic-ending socialization of America, leaving us with just a much larger version of Cuba, except with fewer palm trees, worse health care, and uglier women. In fact, well, I will let Trende speak for himself . . . 

In other words, if our underlying assumption -- that there are 7 million votes outstanding -- is correct, then the African-American vote only increased by about 300,000 votes, or 0.2 percent, from 2008 to 2012. The Latino vote increased by a healthier 1.7 million votes, while the “other” category increased by about 470,000 votes.

This is nothing to sneeze at, but in terms of the effect on the electorate, it is dwarfed by the decline in the number of whites. Again, if our assumption about the total number of votes cast is correct, almost 7 million fewer whites voted in 2012 than in 2008. This isn’t readily explainable by demographic shifts either; although whites are declining as a share of the voting-age population, their raw numbers are not.

Moreover, we should have expected these populations to increase on their own, as a result of overall population growth. If we build in an estimate for the growth of the various voting-age populations over the past four years and assume 55 percent voter turnout, we find ourselves with about 8 million fewer white voters than we would expect given turnout in the 2008 elections and population growth.

Had the same number of white voters cast ballots in 2012 as did in 2008, the 2012 electorate would have been about 74 percent white, 12 percent black, and 9 percent Latino (the same result occurs if you build in expectations for population growth among all these groups). In other words, the reason this electorate looked so different from the 2008 electorate is almost entirely attributable to white voters staying home. The other groups increased their vote, but by less than we would have expected simply from population growth.

Put another way: The increased share of the minority vote as a percent of the total vote is not the result of a large increase in minorities in the numerator, it is a function of many fewer whites in the denominator.

So that's rather a different story, no?  So why didn't more whites come out to vote? The simple explanation which Trende speculates is the case based on looking at Ohio, is that they were not inspired by either candidate to do so.  They look to be in Ohio from economically hard-hit counties in places like Southeast Ohio. So, dad-gummit, Ma and Pa did not sweep the chickens out of the front seat of the four-banger, fire it up, and drive it in to town to vote.  Based on a barage of negative ads on daytime TV (they have a dish, but the service's been cut off), they reckon Romney was the guy who fired them, an unsympathetic rich guy, and they just couldn't be bothered to vote for him.  For all we know, they might still think Obama is the devil.

Now take a look at this from Jonathan Last.  Eeesh. I had not realized Mitt garnered fewer votes than McCain did in 2008. Last makes a fair point that however much we have been told that Mitt ran a great campaign, in terms of actual results, it was a pretty terrible campaign.  Maybe it just seemed good because it was better than we expected it would be, which was pretty terrible. And he did do well in that first debate. At least according to Last, Mitt's ability to organize and inspire a political campaign was pretty poor. And in fact, Romney does not have a winning record in the election business, which apparently is unlike private equity in important respects. He got elected once to governor of the Bay State, as well as . . . hmmm. Well, can't think of anything else.  Maybe he was the best of a weak field, or maybe as Last claims, Romney fired warning shots (not sure exactly what he means) to keep stronger candidates out of the race. But the point is not that things could have been otherwise, but that Romney emerged as the weaker of two weak candidates.  The main point is that "the country has changed: there will never be another Republican president, at least not without an utter transmorgification of the party blahblahblah" looks like baloney. Instead, it begins to look like the Stupid Party once again lived up to its reputation for not being able to organize a one-car funeral and let the country down. Maybe the entire GOP leadership should fire itself.  They seem to be utterly incompetent.  

Don't get me wrong. As the campaign went on, I found myself liking Romney personally.  But I'm not living on food stamps in Beaver Holler, Ohio.  I tend to like rich people well enough; I envy them some, but mostly admire their accomplishments.  I have a decent understanding of how private equity works and what a ruthlessly competitive business it is, so I know Mitt had to have some chops to prosper in it. But he did look like he learned how to smile by practicing in a mirror and had no common touch that I could see.  Evidently, he did not connect with a whole bucket of voters in swing states whom he needed, and they were not the ones who support gay marriage, abortion, whatever we're calling illegal immigration these days, and the rest of it. Arguably he never had a chance because of the negative ads, or maybe he never would have anyway.

Also, this is good.

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