Why the Republicans failed to beat Obama

Daniel Finkelstein
So what happened?
Barack Obama could have been defeated, but he wasn’t. When the campaign began, the President had dreadful approval numbers and the economy looked bad. In these circumstances an incumbent should lose. But the President was lucky, because the Republicans didn’t do what they had to do to win.
What they had to do was to recognise that the forces that elected Mr Obama four years ago were fundamental ones. America is changing and to capture the White House again requires change.
Here are three basic facts that denied Mitt Romney victory. First, ethnic. As the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman correctly noted this morning:

"U.S. Census numbers tell the story. In the first decade of the new millennium, the Asian-American population rose 43.3 per cent, the African-American population 12.3 per cent, the Latino community 43 per cent — and the white population just 5.7 per cent."

And Obama won heavily among both African Americans (which may have been hard to avoid) and Hispanics (which might have been avoided). 

Before 9/11 Karl Rove, George Bush’s strategist was very aware that if the Republicans didn’t move from their white base they would start to find winning the presidency very hard. But after 9/11 the Bush team became less interested in the problem. 

Second, women. Women outpolled men by 6 per cent, and they voted for Obama by a 12-point margin. The Republicans cannot allow this to persist. They have to think how to reconfigure their coalition so that it keeps its base but doesn’t adopt a social agenda that loses the support of educated young women.

And third - more broadly - moderates. A good deal was made of Romney’s lead among independent voters. But this may have been a misunderstanding of the category. These independent voters may have been Republicans who have moved off to the right and call themselves independent.

The evidence for this? That on the night Romney trailed Obama by 21 points among people seeing themselves as moderate. This was a disaster that can’t be overcome by anything other than a broad shift of position.

The shape of the race is quite instructive. Romney came quite close without ever being more than about 33 per cent likely to win. This is because he was a reasonable candidate defeated by structural problems in the Republican appeal.
To win next time, they have to look deep.


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