The postmortems will be continuing for quite some time, as thoughts and impressions percolate. Some things that come to me right now:
(1) The Obama crew are light-years ahead of the Republicans in technology, and this has to be rectified. A good example is ORCA vs. the extraordinary sophistication of this sort of operation, there’s no question there’s a gap the size of the Grand Canyon.
(2) This election has undermined the reputation of a lot of pundits on the right who confidently predicted a Romney victory, sometimes even a large one. What were George Will and Michael Barone (to name just two of many) thinking? I find it hard to give them any credence now when they say things like “cheer up,” when they’ve been proven not to have had their fingers on the pulse of anything except their own hopes.
(3) It’s important to have more respect for polls. They were right. What’s more, they’re usually right, 1948 excepted. There are a lot of legends told about polls, and a lot of people don’t trust them (and of course some polls are more reliable than others), but the average of polls is usually pretty much on the money. I learned this before the election when I did my own historical research on polls, and it’s the reason I said that, unless the lowering of the response rate in recent polls has somehow skewed the results, they are probably valid. Discounting ones whose results we don’t like, and calling them skewed and faked and biased is nice for morale, but it’s misleading. Perhaps it even creates a false sense of security that made some people think they didn’t need to get out and vote.
(4) Obama knew he never had to appeal to the middle, and he didn’t even try. He merely had to alternately scare and bribe his base into turning out.
(5) There are more low-information voters than I ever thought; I believe their numbers are increasing. Politics: so boring, when there’s bread and circuses to attend to.
(6) We ignore the advantage of incumbency at our peril. Just because conservatives think Obama has been a profoundly incompetent and even destructive president doesn’t mean that perception is at all widely shared. He’s the president, and that counts for something—perhaps a lot, actually:
I was thinking about the point I made earlier – incumbent presidents’ attempts to win re-election. Starting with McKinley in 1896, every incumbent who sought re-election won except for four: Taft; Hoover; Ford; Carter; and George H.W. Bush. All but Hoover faced a strong primary challenge (TR in 1912; Ronald Reagan in 1976; Ted Kennedy in 1980; and Pat Buchanan in 1992) and three of the four faced a serious general election third party challenge (TR in 1912; John Anderson in 1980; and Ross Perot in 1992).
Hoover may be an outlier, but his situation is unique because of the Great Depression. Given this history, I wonder whether people should stop all the second-guessing about what happened this time: Mitt Romney had to overcome a difficult primary battle and unite a divided Republican Party, and he faced a united Democratic Party and a media that loves President Obama. It’s not surprising that the incumbent won.
A few more miscellaneous thoughts—a lot of people on the right thought that Obama would have difficulty holding his base. But in retrospect I wonder why they thought so: just because his base isn’t totally satisfied with him? They’re a darn sight happier with him than they were with Mitt Romney, that’s for sure, and he made certain they hated and /or were scared of Romney. I saw that happen even among my friends.
I wonder whether other, less charismatic, less hypnotic, less clever politicians than Obama could have pulled off the same thing, even with the demographics the same as they are now. I have always said Barack Obama is smart, or clever, or whatever you want to call it, especially about politics. He’s also unscrupulous. That turned out to be a winning combination.