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Republicans' appeals for individual initiative and self reliance did not resonate with these voters. Younger voters cast ballots in fewer numbers for Obama than in 2008 but still gave him, in the 29-and-below group, 60 percent.
Presidential elections involving an incumbent normally are a referendum on the incumbency, with first emphasis on economic issues. By that measure, Romney had an advantage going in. But Obama became the only president other than Franklin Roosevelt to be re-elected with an unemployent rate above 7.8 percent. It was in part, I think, not only because the electorate is changing demographically but because many voters, in the groups cited above, put feelings of social and cultural affinity above traditional bread-and-butter concerns.
Campaign mechanics: Overall turnout had to have been disappointing to both national campaigns. But the Obama team clearly did a better job than Romney's in identifying, appealing to, and turning out its vote. The Obama campaign picked up the never-ending campaign, all-politics-all-the-time doctrine of the Clinton presidency but also broke new ground by keeping in place its 2008 operation without closing it down between elections. Voters who supported or gave money to Obama received non-stop email, regular mail, Twitter, and other communications from the White House, president and First Lady, campaign committees, and other partisan groups on a nearly daily basis from 2009 until Election Day 2012. The Romney national campaign, by contrast, only focused on the general election after a grueling, sometimes-bruising campaign to win the Republican nomination over strong conservative opposition.
The Obama campaign also did an excellent job of defining the opposition candidate for the electorate before he could fully define himself. This was an imperative for an incumbency facing an uphill task in defending itself in tough economic times. Post-Labor Day survey data showed that the Obama campaign had been quite successful in painting Romney as a heartless, Bain Capital plutocrat unconcerned with ordinary people. Romney, unaccountably, did not launch his own media campaign — in battleground states, in particular — trying to erase this picture. He began to do so only in his first nationally televised debate with Obama.
Whereas the Obama campaign defined its target voters (as above) and directed tailored measures toward them, the Romney campaign ran an old-style, general-message-to-everyone campaign on the assumption that all Americans were deriving their information from traditional mass-media sources and/or, for that matter, from the presidential debates. Obama appeared on numerous entertainment TV and some radio talk shows, especially at the local level in key markets, while Romney struck a more traditional, above-the-fray posture and appeared at traditional campaign events.
Much has been made of the fact that the Eastern-seaboard hurricane, during the final week before the election, broke Romney's momentum in the campaign and allowed Obama an opportunity to reboot. Reliable Gallup polling data, indeed, showed Romney slowly opening a more-than-3-points national lead on Obama just before the hurricane. He'd had three strong debate performances against Obama, was drawing big campaign crowds, and had the central bread-and-butter issue running in his favor.
The hurricane did, in my judgment, give Obama a chance to reboot. But I am not so sure that he would not have done so, hurricane or not. Late-breaking, undecided voters — contrary to the usual pattern — went for the incumbent rather than the challenger. The Obama campaign, below the surface, was doing a superior job in generating its vote. The outcome, I suspect, was only marginally affected by the big blow.
Finally, it should be noted that official campaign committees, other partisan committees, and independent-expenditure groups gave more money to the Obama campaign than to the Romney campaign. Democratic Senate campaigns also outspent their Republican counterparts. House Republican candidates, by contrast, outspent House Democratic candidates. As it turned out, the winners all had more money than the losers, tending to validate once more the application of the Golden Rule in politics: Those with the gold rule.
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