Monday, November 26, 2012

Return to Fantasy Island: Democrats are the ones holding on

Shortly after Election Day, I commented on a piece from The Nation that supposed Obama's victory represented a rising tide, as it were, of progressivism. As I noted then, the facts don't really support this fantasy version of reality:
It's an interesting thesis, but hardly supported by post-election data. As I've already detailed, turnout is down as compared to 2008. In fact, as a percentage of VAP, turnout is down compared to 2004 and quite possible 2000, as well. In the most progressive State in the Union--California--Obama tallied 5,871,106 votes in the 2012 Election. In the 2008 Election, he received 7,441,458 votes, over 1.5 million more than this year, the year of the "progressive surge."
The numbers are now in. Turnout sits at 126,985,809 total votes for all candidates, higher than my projection but lower than the pre-election ones and the the post-election 129 million votes many were supposing. Obama garnered 64,497,901 votes (50.8%), while Romney's total was 60,298,327 (47.5%). Thus Obama got fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008, while Romney got just about what McCain did in 2008 (Romney got a few hundred thousand more). How many fewer votes did Obama get this time around? Just over five million. That's right, at least five million people--who had voted for Obama in 2008--did not vote for him in 2012.

It's a point being steadily ignored by those promoting the idea that Obama's victory was a very significant thing, with regard to the future of both the Left and the Right. Witness the always-entertaining Bob Shrum's latest piece at the Daily Beast. Entitled "The GOP Faces Years in the Wilderness After 2012 Election Losses," it's more or less a parroting of the piece from the editors at  The Nation. Shrum offers the same basic encapsulation of the election results:
All this leaves Republicans out there on a demographic cliff with women, Hispanics, and young people. And for the most part, their own primary voters won’t let them retreat... 
The president has laid a predicate for a generation of Democratic campaigns and left Republicans in what could be a permanently vulnerable position.
Shrum also points to the far-superior capabilities of Democrats when it comes to actual campaigning as a major issue that will continue to undercut Republicans:
What they did was a quantum leap beyond their own success in 2008. This year, their combat with Romney, from micro-targeting to monitoring turnout, was like the Starship Enterprise battling a B1 bomber.
This supposition I find fascinating: 2012 was a "quantum leap" beyond 2008. And yet, Obama received 5 million fewer votes this time around. His margin of victory over Romney was smaller in every way--percentage of votes, total votes, electoral votes--than it was over McCain. Sounds like a quantum leap backwards. Yet maybe that's the real point: the Obama Campaign's ability to "micro-target" sealed the deal in an election he could have very easily lost.

Okay. But that's hardly evidence of a "demographic cliff" of any sort, it's evidence that the Democrats had to reach deep to win an election against a flawed Republican candidate, that they had to change the parameters of the debate in order to achieve the necessary success among targeted groups like women--by making the race all about abortion--and Hispanics--by making the race all about immigration.

Shrum also says the following:
Outside the South, President Obama defeated his opponent 55 to 45 percent, winning a landslide there as well as in the Electoral College. The bottom line: Romney got elected president of the old confederacy.
The rather pathetic attempt of a racism zinger aside, it is simply amazing how the supposed elites of political commentary are completely unaware of the consequences of changing demographics even as they write about the consequences of changing demographics! As I noted previously, the South and the West--Red States--are on the rise, while the Northeast and California are declining in electoral importance. The next apportionment--in 2020, it is true--will likely make New York a secondary state, shrink California's lead over Texas in electoral votes, and move Florida up another notch in the "critical win" category. But even with just the 2010 changes continuing in place, Republicans will still be in a better position than they were in 2004 and 2008 when 2016 rolls around.

So maybe the Democrats are actually the ones standing on a "demographic cliff." For it wasn't the issues of the economy, taxes, and Obamacare fueling Obama's victory, it wasn't actual policy. Just the opposite: it was emotional rhetoric about what might be under the leadership of Romney that gave Obama a huge margin of victory among certain segments of the population. And those areas where Republican political machinery is strongest are those areas that are in the rise.

One slip in the future, an inability to use single issues as a means of wooing a key demographic, leaves the Democrats where? Exactly where pundits like Shrum suppose the Republicans are: on the outside looking in. And note that this very same sort of argument was made in 2008. Yet 2010 followed. And while Romney lost 2012, he did far better than McCain, mostly because Obama was losing votes hand over fist.

Assuming the economy finally begins to recovery in the next four years, the nation will still be deeper in debt, even as the bureaucracy of Washington, DC continues to grow. The growing pressures in society today are becoming more and more focused on the Nation's youth, who cannot help but recognize the reality of financial mismanagement in the federal government. There is little reason to believe that will continue to swallow the story they are being fed, if their own situations continue to remain static and/or bleak.

That's a recipe for how to lose a demographic, not keep it. Shrum and others suppose the hold of the Democrats over the youth vote is eternal, they take it for granted. And yet, as I detailed previously, the next generation slips through their fingers, even as they try to tighten their grip. My analysis of the youth vote, based on a Harvard study of the same:
First, there is the straight forward percentages for "likely voters." In 2008, Obama led McCain by 26 points [in the "youth vote," 18-24 in 2008, 18-29 in 2012]. Now, in 2012, Obama's lead over Romney is 19, seven points less than in 2008. Then there's the matter of the added age groups in 2012. If we only consider 18-24 year olds from both periods, Obama's advantage narrows even more to 12 points, fourteen points less than in in 2008. But note the real joker in the deck: voter enthusiasm: in 2008, this favored Obama, with more of his supporters saying they would definitely vote, increasing his advantage from 26 points to 28 points. In 2012, Romney holds the edge in enthusiasm by 10 points, 65% to 55%. Factoring this into the numbers gives us a final breakdown--of 18-24 year olds only--of 23% for Obama compared to 19% for Romney. Thus, Obama's already shrunken lead of 12 points among younger voters shrinks yet again to a mere 4 points.
Romney was not an easy guy to like, especially for younger people. He just wasn't. And yet, portions of the younger segment of the "youth vote" were clearly turning away from Obama and towards him. This was, in my opinion, less about Romney and more about the realization among some that Obama and company had been selling a lie, were steadily making the future dimmer, not brighter.

The post-election data this time around showed a big win for Obama in the youth vote, it is true, but note the parameters: 18-29 year olds. And consistent with the analysis above, Obama did lose ground overall in this group, going from 66% in 2008 to 60% in 2012, while Romney upped the share McCain received, increasing it to 36% from 31% in 2008. Thus, the margin went from 35% to 24%, an eleven point loss for the Left. Given the current economic climate, there is little reason to suppose this trend won't continue. Again, Dem policies are slowly losing the youth vote, even as people continue to take it as a given that this demographic group is an untouchable one for the Right.

Thus, the fantasy from the Left: a misreading of actual demographic trends and a reliance on single issues as a basis for securing a demographic equals a dominant position stretching well into the future. When reality comes crashing down around them, it won't be a pretty sight.

Cheers, all.


  1. Great article Rob. I especially like the youth breakdown which as you pointed out is not the perpetual advantage the Dems think it is. The beginning of Gen Y is just starting to hit their mid 30's and as the idealism of college continues to fade I believe we will continue to see a shift towards more conservative values. Also, with the size of Gen Y (the largest ever) unemployment will continue to plague them. Once they get tired of living in basements and working at Starbucks it should lead to a rise in entrepreneurship. As they start paying taxes on their new ventures I hope it helps to bring them to there senses. Right? Or do we continue to follow Europe off the cliff?
    What did scare me most about the election you pointed out very well and that is the success the left had with women and wrapping everything up in abortion. Something that is not likely to be changed anyway will continue to be a thorn for conservatives in future elections.

  2. Thanks Joe.

    And yeah, I agree with you about abortion: little chance of it being dropped as an issue by either side. Both sense it provides an advantage. I'd love to see the RNC drop it from their platform, though.