Takeaways from Election 2012 — calculated to entertain or annoy, depending on your point of view
In no particular order of importance, here are some gleanings from the recent campaign season and election:
–According to exit polls, a slim majority of voters who identified themselves as Catholics went for President Obama — despite thinly-veiled entreaties by their church hierarchy to vote Republican.
One bishop even implied that voting for Democrats would put one’s “soul in jeopardy.”
–This was the sixth presidential election since right-wing radio blabber Rush Limbaugh became a national figure — and in five of those six elections, the Democratic candidate has carried the popular vote.
Similarly, the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in four of the five presidential elections since the launch of Fox News Channel.
Hence, Limbaugh and Fox are not exactly the voices of the American political mainstream.
–Among the biggest winners in this election were polling analysts Nate Silver of The New York Times and Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium. For months before the voting, these two wizards, especially Silver, were belittled by the conservative media and even by some mainstream political pundits.
But Silver and Wang, separately and using different analytical models, correctly predicted the winner in each of the 50 states.
You can’t do any better than that.
–Incidentally, if Silver and Wang were right on election day, it’s probably safe to say that their calculations were right throughout the campaign. That means that at no time was Obama likely to lose the race.
Even if voting had taken place soon after the first presidential debate, the one in which Mitt Romney was said to have done well, Obama likely would have won the election. Silver and Wang never saw Mitt Romney ahead in the race for electoral votes.
–The Obama campaign is said to have had its own crackerjack pollsters, who, according to one report, missed the mark by only one-tenth of one percent in their final aggegated analysis of battleground states.
–This election was the 16th in the last 17 in which the Republican candidate won the white vote.
Since World War II, only one Democratic presidential candidate — Lyndon Johnson in 1964 — has carried the white vote. Black voters (and now Latinos) are indispensible elements of the Democratic coalition. Without them, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama would never have been elected president.
–Amazingly enough, this was the 21st election in a row, over a period of 84 years, in which the Republicans failed to win the presidency without a Bush or a Nixon on the ticket.
The Republican team of Herbert Hoover and Charles Curtis prevailed in the election of 1928. Since then, Republicans have always lost unless a Nixon or a Bush was on the ticket.
–If you Google the words “worst political pundit,” the name of Dick Morris most commonly appears among your first big batch of results.
Morris, a Fox News regular, earned that ignominious distinction as a bad pundit even before he predicted last week that Romney would win in a landslide.
The other night, Morris sheepishly tried to explain to Bill O’Reilly exactly how he had miscalculated. It was pathetic.
–But while Morris’ prediction was just flat-out wrong, no conservative pundit’s prognostications about this election were as laden with delicious irony as Ann Coulter’s.
Back in February of 2011, Coulter famously said: “If we don’t run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee, and we’ll lose.”
True enough, the party didn’t run Christie, Romney was the nominee, and he lost.
But no one — not Ann Coulter or anyone else — could have predicted that Christie would at least indirectly contribute to Romney’s loss by lavishly praising Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy.
CBS News exit polls in Tuesday’s election showed that 15 percent of voters rated Obama’s handling of the big storm as the leading factor in their decision at the ballot box. Another 26 perent said it was a major factor.
Is there any doubt that Christie’s frequent and unequivocal praise of Obama, which invariably gained played prominently on network TV, influenced public attitudes about the president’s leadership in that crisis?
The final irony in all of this is that just before the election, Ann Coulter disavowed her earlier prediction that Romney would lose. Her new theory was that polls tend to “over-predict victory for a black candidate” and that Obama actually would lose.
–Republicans won more U.S. House seats than Democrats in this election, but mainly because of gerrymandering of district boundaries by GOP-controlled state legislatures.
When you look at all 435 House races, Democrats got more total votes than Republicans.
And Democrats won 25 of 33 races for the U.S. Senate.
So, Democrats drew more votes for the presidency and for each house of Congress. It wasn’t exactly a so-called wave election, but it was something of a trend.
–One of the congressional races here in the backyard of Applesauce World Headquarters saw Tea Party favorite Bobby Schilling lose to Democrat Cheri Bustos in the 17th District of Illinois.
The contest was especially notable for the fact that Schilling had lots of support from one of the Super PACs operated by the infamous Karl Rove, who, all in all, had a very bad day on Tuesday.
Rove has always been vastly overrated as a political operative, and now his reputation lies in tatters. His string of blunders and miscalculations is longer than Sarah Palin’s list of foolish utterances. Nobody respects Rove anymore, and even Donald Trump is finding good cause to bad-mouth him.
By the way, Rove and I were full-time campaigners for rival candidates in a U.S. Senate race of 42 years ago, but that’s a story for another day. The upshot is that my guy won in a landslide, and his guy’s long political career was over.
–And finally, among the many lessons political professionals can learn from this election cycle are these two:
1) Elections aren’t just held on Election Day anymore. Early voting is becoming increasingly commonplace across the country, and a large percentage of ballots already have been cast by the time the first Tuesday in November rolls around.
This changes forevermore the dynamics of the process. If they haven’t already, campaign operatives hereafter will put greater emphasis on identifying their supporters and getting them out to vote well before Election Day, which helps insulate the candidate from last-minute problems and guards against the effects of bad weather.
Early voting was key to the Obama campaign’s successful strategy both this time and four years ago.
2) The effectiveness of campaign ads isn’t accurately measured merely by the number of TV spots and mailings or the amount of money expended (as Karl Rove and his clients have learned the hard way). This year, some candidates who had fewer campaign ads than their opponents still emerged victorious.
Ads that are poorly conceived and executed are useless, if not harmful. I can’t count the number of campaign spots this season that made me cringe — and not just because they offended my liberal sensibilities. They were bad because they weren’t intelligently calculated to reach the desired audience with the desired message.
I remember a state legislative contest of 25 or 30 years ago in which one candidate was doing well until his campaign ran a last-minute attack ad against the other guy that was so distasteful that it turned the race around.
Campaign ads that don’t fetch votes — or worse, actually lose votes — are a political sacrilege.