The GOP Turnout Myth

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Kimberley A. Strassel @ The WSJ:

To win the next presidential race, the GOP will have to understand what went wrong in 2012. To do that, they’ve got to come to grips with what did, and did not, happen with turnout.

Even as Republicans have engaged in some agonizing over their candidate and agenda, many have sought comfort in the notion that a big part of the loss came down to simple mechanics. President Obama had a stunning Election Day operation, which turned out his base. Mitt Romney’s shop, by contrast, failed to get people to the polls. That explanation is soothing because it suggests that, in the future, all the GOP needs is a slicker piece of get-out-the-vote software.

It’s also broadly wrong.

The turnout myth comes from a statistic that has been endlessly repeated: Mitt Romney got fewer votes than John McCain in 2008. This isn’t quite true (Mr. Romney this week eked past the McCain totals), and in any event it is somewhat irrelevant. The Romney vote count reflects a nationwide voter turnout that was down nearly five percentage points from 2008. What matters is how the GOP did in the battleground states.

And there? Mr. Romney beat Mr. McCain’s numbers in every single battleground, save Ohio. In some cases, his improvement was significant. In Virginia, 65,000 more votes than in 2008. In Florida, 117,000 more votes. In Colorado, 52,000. In Wisconsin, 146,000. Moreover, in key states like Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia, Mr. Romney turned out even more voters than George W. Bush did in his successful re-election in 2004.

By contrast, Mr. Obama’s turnout was down from 2008 in nearly every battleground. He lost 54,000 votes in Virginia, 46,000 votes in Florida, 50,000 votes in Colorado, 63,000 votes in Wisconsin. Ditto Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio. The only state where Mr. Obama increased his votes (by 36,000) was North Carolina, and he was still beaten by a Romney campaign that raised its own turnout by a whopping 147,000.

The temptation here is to conclude that Mr. Romney did better than Mr. McCain, just not well enough, while Mr. Obama did worse, just not badly enough. Yes, there is no question the GOP turnout effort could have been improved. Project ORCA, developed and run by the Romney campaign to refine its turnout efforts, was a dismal failure. And the GOP lagged behind the Obama campaign’s sophisticated use of technology, in particular social media.

Could better use of these tools have added enough to the Romney totals to eke out victories in key states? Maybe. In the end, it was 334,000 votes—in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire—that separated Mr. Romney from the presidency. Then again, had Mr. Romney succeeded in grinding out a narrow victory, it might also have masked the party’s bigger problems.

Because what ought to scare the GOP is this: Even with higher GOP turnout in key states, even with Mr. Obama shedding voters, Democrats still won. Mr. Obama accomplished this by tapping new minority voters in numbers that beat even Mr. Romney’s better turnout.

In Florida, 238,000 more Hispanics voted than in 2008, and Mr. Obama got 60% of Hispanic voters. His total margin of victory in Florida was 78,000 votes, so that demographic alone won it for him. Or consider Ohio, where Mr. Romney won independents by 10 points. The lead mattered little, though, given that black turnout increased by 178,000 votes, and the president won 96% of the black vote. Mr. Obama’s margin of victory there was 103,000.

This is the demographic argument that is getting so much attention, and properly so. The Republican Party can hope that a future Democratic candidate won’t equal Mr. Obama’s magnetism for minority voters. But the GOP would do far better by fighting aggressively for a piece of the minority electorate.

And that, for the record, was the GOP’s real 2012 turnout disaster. Elections are about the candidate and the message, yes, but also about the ground game. Republicans right now are fretting about Mr. Romney’s failures and the party’s immigration platform—that’s fair enough. But equally important has been the party’s mind-boggling failure to institute a competitive Hispanic ground game. The GOP doesn’t campaign in those communities, doesn’t register voters there, doesn’t knock on doors. So while pre-election polling showed that Hispanics were worried about Obama policies, in the end the only campaign that these voters heard from—by email, at their door, on the phone—was the president’s.

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Curt served in the Marine Corps for four years and has been a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles for the last 24 years.

6 Responses to “The GOP Turnout Myth”

  1. 1


    What is ironic in the comments of all these talking heads is the fact that they have put their finger to their mouths saying “Shhhh, don’t talk about Texas.” A state that talking heads, from Huffington Post to Democrat Underground, predicted was rapidly turning blue, not just blue but deep blue, seems to have turned even redder, inspite of the growth of the Hispanic population.

    In 2008, Obama took 28 Texas counties, mostly border counties but lost two of those counties this year. In heavily Hispanic counties like Bexar (San Antonio), Travis (Austin) and Harris (Houston) the margin of Obama’s 2008 win was narrowed considerably. So while overall Texas voting was down by 138,673 votes, Romney took 88,051 more votes than John McCain while Obama lost 226,724 votes over his 2008 total.

    In a number of the lesser counties with high Hispanic populations, Obama held his win, he lost in the margin of votes between him and his opponent. i.e. Obama won by a narrower margin in highly Hispanic counties over 2008. In Harris County, where Obama had a strong win margin in 2008, he won this year by less than 1/2 of 1%. losing 3,160 votes over 2008 while the Republican opponent took 14,723 more votes over 2008.

    In a state where whites are actually a minority, and the Hispanic population is growing, to what can we attribute this shift in Texas? A few things; more minority kids are attending college, narrowing the gap between white and Hispanic college graduates; the income level between whites and Hispanics is also narrowing, as Hispanic voters who are becoming more and more successful are just as reluctant to have the federal government take their earnings, via the IRS, as are those of any other ethnic group. Texas has also, unlike other states with large Hispanic populations, offered voters a choice between a white Democrat and a Hispanic Republican, i.e. Ted Cruz, Bill Flores and a number of state congressmen.

    So what is the answer for other states when it comes to the Hispanic vote? Well, it’s not amnesty, or even amnesty lite. It is getting conservative Hispanics to organize to offset the fraud perpetrated by groups like LaRaza and LULAC. In 2008, LaRaza worked in coordination with ACORN on a well-greased system of vote mining and fraudulent voter registrations in South Texas. Cleaning up voter rolls to make sure that those who cannot legally vote are not getting voter registration cards is a must. And can be done in every county in the nation.

  2. 2


    Not that it really matters, but the Dumbplumber, a California voter, did not vote for Romney. One, because he votes in California and Two, because Romney and the GOP treated Palin and Cain like dirt. It has been determined that this voting pattern was repeated throughout Amerika. Hey Mittens, you reap what you sow.

  3. 3


    None of the above analysis is correct. Obama won because Congress sat on their thumbs and allowed Obama to pass the Dream Act which made the Hispanics love him. How could Romney possibly compete with Santa Claus.

  4. 4


    One group that the GOP could easily grab if they put out a little effort is Hispanics who are in this country legally, via citizenship, or on the path to becoming citizens. I can’t quote any learned professors, but the legal residents and citizens that I know who are of central and southern American ancestry really aren’t too fond of those who are here illegally.
    It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to get and stay here legally, and those who do feel that illegals cheapen what they worked so hard to accomplish.
    Plus, there are so many illegal aliens here that anyone of a middle complexion is assumed to be one of them, which is pretty frustrating and insulting to those who aren’t.
    US Citizens of southern ancestry are a pretty conservative bunch, but they aren’t going to just fall into the GOP’s arms. Republicans need to specifically address them as valued citizens., and show that they know the difference between the concerns of the legal and the concerns of the illegal.
    So far, the entire political discourse has been about illegal aliens. The legal citizens feel left out. If Republicans would quit ignoring them, maybe they would quit ignoring Republicans.

  5. 5


    that was a vote for your personal grief,
    shouldn’t it have been for AMERICA’S SAKE, WHEN SUCH VOTE IS REQUIRED?
    you also have been told this was the most important vote of the history of the COUNTRY,
    but you had a vengeance to accomplish, how do you feel now as an AMERICAN?

  6. 6

    Done Gone Galt

    Better turnout might possibly have given Romney a popular vote win but not an electoral one. Democrats have worked hard to nail down key metropolitan areas of the swing states since Al Gore’s loss. Obama won substantially in 8 of the 10 largest cities. He only lost in one: Phoenix. He won 4 of the 5 largest cities by an amount greater than he won the entire popular vote.
    Ryan wanted to try and battle in the inner cities but Romney advisers limited that to a bare minimum.
    “As part of his role, Ryan had wanted to talk about poverty, traveling to inner cities and giving speeches that laid out the Republican vision for individual empowerment. But Romney advisers refused his request to do so, until mid-October, when he gave a speech on civil society in Cleveland.”

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