Obama's Failure With Whites, Independents Will Sink Him

Obama's Failure With Whites, Independents Will Sink Him

By Ben Domenech - November 3, 2012

The time has come to make a prediction about the 2012 election, and I’m not going to shirk the task. I’ve spent the past few weeks walking you through the thought process I’ve had about the decisions made by both campaigns, the missteps and missed opportunities on both sides, and the central question seems to me to be this: in the long term, demographic trend lines indicate that President Obama’s base is larger, more diverse, and allows for more paths to victory. But elections aren’t in the long term, they’re snapshots, as the White House is fond of saying every first Friday of the month, a moment in time when Americans assess the candidates and make a choice. And for all the long term factors which favor Obama’s approach to politics, in this election I expect the American people to choose to take a different path for the next four years.

You could go blind looking over the polling data in this election and attempting to analyze the internal information and the trendlines of key groups. Dan McLaughlin's article does a good job of summing up the limitations of polling, and the divergence of state and national polls, which was clearly on front and center display in this cycle. Some allege bias behind this, but I see more a lack of information, even about something as simple as what percentage of cell phone voters you ought to include in your assessments. But a few points have stood out to me as remarkable for their consistency over the past month, and for how little the Obama campaign has done to disrupt them. And these points all lean toward a Romney victory.

I believe this election has turned, as I argued last week, into an undertow election. Romney’s support has remained remarkably consistent since his selection of Paul Ryan healed any remaining rift with the conservative base. There is no great wave of support rising up from the previously undecided to elevate Romney to a definitive win. However, Obama’s base of support has shown signs of being less engaged, less active, and less eager to vote. All indications are that turnout is going to lag the heights of 2008, falling closer to the levels of 1996 and 2000 – a distinct advantage for the Republican, no matter the election. It is also looking like turnout will break the string of decreasingly white electorates, again a bad sign for the president. As Josh Kraushaar points out, Team Obama may have the better ground game – but they also may have made a significant error in deciding which states could function as a firewall against Romney’s appeals:

“The Obama turnout machine isn’t quite as valuable in the more homogeneous battleground states—Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire—that make up the president’s firewall. These states have older, whiter electorates. The name of the game for Democrats here is persuasion as much as mobilization. In Ohio, Obama’s campaign strategy is clear: making Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout a central part of the bid to hold onto enough working-class whites to win the state. But it’s also becoming clear that it’s not just Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin that are looking winnable for Romney—it’s the entire swath of competitive Midwestern and Rust Belt states that share demographic similarities, and where Republicans made significant gains during the 2010 midterms. Obama holds a small lead in Ohio thanks to the auto bailout, but the issues driving the electorate in neighboring states are more favorable to Republicans.”

Team Obama may have successfully made Romney toxic in Ohio, and indeed, my electoral map below shows him failing to win there, but other Midwestern states have not experienced that same level of thermonuclear ad attack, and there the ground may prove more fertile.

I also expect Mitt Romney to maximize the white religious vote. Church attendance is about as solid an indicator of voting consistency as exists, and I expect Romney to mount a significant recovery over McCain in this arena. The major push Obama made in 2008 among white Catholics is completely absent this cycle – the Doug Kmiecs of the world have faded into the background, and the potentially centrist social justice-oriented Obama who spoke at Notre Dame is no more. The anti-Mormon sentiment has never caught on among the Christian community to the degree some feared. And Obama’s contraception and abortion message has caused a great deal of concern among religious groups, Protestant and Catholic alike. The Obama of 2008 lost Protestants to McCain by just 53% to 46% (Kerry lost Protestants to Bush by 14 points) and won Catholics by 56% to 43%. In both categories, I expect Romney’s margin to improve upon McCain’s and dramatically so, in ways that will particularly help him in the Midwest. And beyond the religious population, it’s worth keeping in mind that in 2008, Obama won 43% of the white vote – the highest percentage of any Democrat since Jimmy Carter. An Obama who returns to typical Democratic percentages in all these areas is likely to lose.

It seems apparent from looking at the early voting numbers that Team Obama is consistently underperforming its marks. Early voting was a major part of the campaign’s push this time around – with each passing day, Chicago seems less certain of victory there. Without a significant early voting advantage, it forces Obama to count on GOTV to an unprecedented degree. But GOTV methods only count for so much, and even in states that I expect Obama to win, such as Nevada, his performance is well below the levels of 2008:

“The Democrats have adopted a don’t-worry-be-happy façade this cycle to make it seem as if the Reid machine is whirring as efficiently as four years ago. Their spinning is that they have won every day in Clark (where they had an 83,000-vote lead in early voting last cycle), they are keeping the Republicans at bay in Washoe (it’s almost dead even) and the high rural vote will peter out by Election Day. But they know that Obama will not win Nevada by 12 points this cycle and that every vote they bank they may need to hold off the tide in the worst economy in America, where hope and change have become disappointment and despair.”

Polls have consistently found that higher percentages of whites are “extremely likely” to vote compared to blacks and Latinos – another sign of concern for the President.

In sum, I see the bottom slipping out from under Obama’s feet, and a campaign hoping to hold on just long enough to salvage a slim victory, one where he is almost certain to lose the popular vote. He is underperforming among whites and independents, and particularly among those likeliest to vote. I have never believed in running the prevent defense, and Obama has been running it for months. Running out the clock is rarely a winning strategy in sports or politics, and it is one I expect to fail this year. Thus, my prediction for Tuesday is this: Obama 260, Romney 278.

Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom. Click here to subscribe.

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