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Rob Horowitz: President Obama’s Solid Popular Vote Win

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

 

The overwhelming majority of presidential post-mortems have emphasized the Obama campaign’s superior ground operation in the battleground states which contributed significantly to what turned out to be an electoral college landslide for President Barack Obama.

While the Obama campaign’s ability to expand the electorate and turn out people likely to be favorable to them in unprecedented numbers is certainly a key part of the story of the 2012 election, it is just one aspect of a much broader picture.

Robust get-out-the-vote efforts for the President were mainly limited to the battleground states and thus do not explain his solid national popular vote win in which he bested Mitt Romney 51 percent to 48 percent -- or by more than than 3 million votes.

The basic fundamentals of the election drove Obama’s win—much in the same way they drove the re-election victory of George Bush in 2004 by a similar margin.

According to national exit polls, 54 percent of people who cast their ballot for President approved of the job President Obama was doing. Not surprisingly, nearly 9-in-10 of these people voted for the President. On the other hand, Romney’s high negatives inched back up with 1-in-2 voters rating him unfavorably. These numbers are very high for a challenger -- especially when one considers that favorability is a much softer measure that is usually kinder to politicians than job approval ratings. Furthermore, a majority of voters believed that Mitt Romney’s policies favored the rich.

One of the keys to understanding how President Obama’s job approval rating remained fairly high despite an anemic recovery and continued high unemployment, is that voters understand the difficult circumstances he inherited. When asked who was more to blame for current economic problems -- Barack Obama or George Bush -- 53 percent of respondents chose Bush, while only 38 percent indicated Obama. This is why the comparison to Jimmy Carter’s failed re-election often made by analysts was way off the mark. In 1980, voters overwhelmingly blamed Carter for the dismal state of the economy. There was no refrain that he was working to overcome the tough economic problems created by Ford and Nixon, the Republican Presidents who preceded him.

The Obama victory was a combination of most voters believing he was doing a pretty good job under difficult circumstances and his campaign’s success in defining Mitt Romney as someone who favored the rich and was out of touch with middle class concerns. For most voters, Romney passed the so-called Chief Executive Test. People did view him as competent and up to the job. But in a race where a majority of voters were willing to fire the incumbent, but not necessarily anxious to do so, Romney was not an attractive enough candidate to gain majority support.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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