While the postmortem on the 2012 Presidential election begins, it is a notable fact that voter turn in 2012 was much lower than in 2008. Given that some 10 million new voting-aged Americans were eligible to vote, an estimated drop in participation of at least 6 million voters may hold the key to answer many questions. In 2008, some 132,653,958 Americans voted, roughly 62.2% of the country. While some places are still counting ballots, the numbers for 2012 voter turnout are approximately 126 million, roughly 57.5%. Had Mitt Romney just matched the same vote totals that John McCain received, he would have won the popular vote and quite possibly the presidency as well in the Electoral College. So why did so many stay home? Is that why Romney lost?
For now, all we can do is speculate until some bright political scientist decides to study this event and publish a paper detailing the results. But we can consider a few classic answers to voter apathy. These tend to follow trends of general mistrust or disgust with politicians and the overall process. One might also look at the impact of micro-targeting key swing states and even individual counties and precincts with mass negative TV, radio and mailing ads. We saw very clearly during the GOP primaries that states where voters were carpet-bombed with ads tended to have lower turnouts. South Carolina had the highest increase in voter participation during the GOP primaries and a relatively low amount of campaign ads.
Speaking of South Carolina and its GOP primary, I naturally have to gloat that my favorite candidate, Newt Gingrich, did very well there. This in part due to a very strong debate performance as well as his ability to articulate an actual vision for America′s future. This is something we call ′leadership′, that quality to rally people around a banner and coax them to march into battle.
Already, there is the wave of recriminations spewing forth that the Republican Party, or at least the Conservative movement, is out of step and must adjust and dumb itself down to be popular. That so long as we hold dearly to our principles that we will never make gains with those demographic groups which are growing, such as Latinos.
While the national polling data appears to have been right, one thing it was dead wrong about was the percentage of uncommitted voters late in the game. This group was substantially higher than thought. Oddly enough, they were most persuaded to vote for Obama by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, mostly due to their perception that Obama was a good leader during the Hurricane Sandy disaster. Exit polling data shows that the Frankenstorm accounted for almost 15% of the primary reasons for how people voted, second only to the economy, which Obama and Romney were essentially tied on. In some states, like Pennsylvania, Team Obama ran a deluge of radio ads on popular music stations targeting young, single women about abortion rights, raising its importance in the election results.
If the GOP failed it had less to do with demographics as it did with the power of persuasion. Both sides failed to turnout the same numbers as in 2008. In addition, the voter turnout for 2012 should have been much higher to begin with simply due to population expansion, but that was not the case. So are people just fed up with politicians in general? Is that why Romney lost? Have we lost faith in our political system? Or were folks just so tuned out because of all of the negative campaign ads in crucial swing states that maybe they forgot that there was an election on Tuesday? Perhaps it is just something more simple, a lack of inspiring leadership from either of the two main candidates? Before we start chucking away our principles like Liberty, Capitalism and God, maybe we need to take a harder look at the mechanics of delivering a message.