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November 08, 2012

Obama Didn't Win By Turning Out Blacks To Vote.
He Won By Turning Off Whites From Voting.

I've repeatedly quoted this Larry Sabato analysis, back from early June.

The data in Table 1 show that compared with voters supporting a candidate, swing voters were disproportionately white and female. They were also much more likely to describe themselves as completely independent and much less likely to describe themselves as Democrats or independents leaning toward the Democratic Party. But the most dramatic differences between swing voters and voters supporting a candidate involved their opinions about President Obama and their enthusiasm about voting in 2012.

Swing voters had much more negative opinions of President Obama’s job performance than other voters. In fact, their opinions were almost as negative as those of Romney supporters. Only 11% of swing voters approved of Obama’s job performance compared with 6% of Romney voters. In contrast, 92% of Obama voters approved of the president’s job performance.

But while swing voters were similar to Romney voters in their evaluation of President Obama’s job performance, they were much less enthusiastic about voting. Only 19% of swing voters described themselves as extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in 2012 compared with 47% of Romney supporters and 50% of Obama supporters. And 58% of swing voters described themselves as not too enthusiastic or not at all enthusiastic about voting compared with only 27% of Romney supporters and 21% of Obama supporters.

I wrote, sort of obviously:

Obama, in fact, may be hoping for a rather low turnout election -- or at least a low turnout among these voters. His base, as ever, he wants to greatly turnout. But these voters -- he'd prefer keeping them bored and on the fence and not bothered with voting.

That's exactly what he did. For lower-income male and female white voters both, he ran a series of ads slamming Romney as a heartless Plutocrat who wants to take their jobs and give them cancer. For female white voters in particular, he ginned up a "War on Women."

For both of these attacks, the Republicans armed Obama with mighty knives-- Romney offered up his infamous 47% quote. Akin and Mourdock told women that if they were raped, they'd make sure the law required them to carry the rapist's child to term.

But this was Obama's plan from the start: Drive people away from the polls. Specifically, the large number of people who were disatisfied with him but who weren't sold on Romney.

And he did get them to sit this one out.

First of all, the figures we have so far... suggest to me that the story of this election is not massive turnout of the Democratic base but exceptionally depressed turnout of a portion of the electorate that, when it votes, tends to vote Republican. Those were after all the two parts of President Obama’s cynical and substance-free campaign strategy: to work the most intensely committed and reliable parts of his base into a frenzy while persuading the least committed and reliable part of the Republican base (white working-class voters) that Mitt Romney didn’t deserve their support so they should just sit it out. Much of the post-election analysis has focused on the sophistication of the former effort—finding every last tiny niche in the patchwork of clamoring interest groups that makes up the Democratic coalition and telling it exactly what it wanted to hear. But the election returns suggest the latter effort—using any low and mendacious tactic required to tell working-class voters (especially white, Midwestern ones) that Mitt Romney was an evil and uncaring plutocrat—was by far the more successful and important. Those voters were not going to support Obama, but they could be kept away from Romney, and evidently they were.

The full crosstabs of exit polls are not available yet (or at least not to me), but the information we do have allows for a fairly clear picture of this. As Sean Trende points out today, the lower turnout in this election was driven almost entirely by lower turnout among such voters. “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,” he notes, “it is a function of many fewer whites in the denominator.”

This is both bad news and good news: It means Republicans are indeed vulnerable to attacks that paint them as plutocrats, but it also means that the demographics of the electorate have not turned decisively against them. The voters that could carry Republicans to victory are there, but far too many of them did not vote this time.

I think it's mostly bad news. We call Obama's strategy cynical, and it was. But it was more than that: It promoted cynicism.

He wanted voters to think that "The System" was a rigged game, and that their situation was hopeless, and that there was therefore, no point in voting.

He accomplished just that.

Many voters have dropped out of the voter pool over the years as they've decided that government just doesn't matter, that nothing can change, that it's all a corrupt game.

Obama -- the candidate of Hope and Change, the putative Lightworker -- actively worked to convince ten million Americans of that, and convince them to give up their civic duty and hard-won right to cast a vote in self-government.


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posted by Ace at 07:16 PM

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