By: Andrew Roberts
This election, like every other presidential election, came down to math. It was decided by simple addition, with Barack Obama gaining more than the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the White House. Months prior to November 6, the two campaigns, media, and pundits had largely agreed which candidate the majority of the 50 states would vote for and thus would receive their electoral votes. As all strong-Democratic and Democratic-leaning states (including Pennsylvania) voted for President Obama, he received 243 electoral votes from these blue states. Similarly, as all strong-Republican and leaning-Republican states (including North Carolina) voted for Governor Romney, he received 206 electoral votes from those red states. This left 89 electoral votes from seven states to be split between the two candidates. As both Obama and Romney were shy of the necessary 270 votes, the remaining seven swing states – Nevada, Colorado, Iowa,
Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire – decided the election. By the end of election night, all of these swing states had been called for the President except Florida, in which polls showed Obama with a thin lead.
The candidates used a number of different strategies in these seven states to sway voters, and in some the President managed by razor-slim margins to carry the entire state. Three of the these – Florida, Virginia, and Ohio – drew the most attention from both candidates, as the two campaigns understood that these large states, with a collective 60 electoral votes, would be critical for victory. These three states, arguably the most important in the 2012 election, allowed the two candidates to present the points of their platform, to appeal to a number of different demographics, and to talk about a wide array of issues.
Florida – 29 Electoral College Votes
On Election Day, the RealClearPolitics polling average had Romney with a 1.5 point lead in Florida. Despite this small advantage, Obama lead in the state, 49.8 to 49.3%, with 100% of precincts reporting the next day. Florida was a critical state for Romney to win, because losing it gave a guaranteed win to the President. It has the most electoral votes – 29 – of all of the swing states, and its controversy in the 2000 election, when Gore won the popular vote but lost Florida’s electoral votes, still places it in the national spotlight. The number of times the candidates visited the Sunshine State indicates its importance: Since June 2012, Obama visited 26 times, Biden visited 17, Romney visited 38, and Ryan visited 8 times. The amount of money spent on advertising in Florida was near $170 million, with the Obama group spending $77 million and the Romney group spending $93 million. Romney gained the support of Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio, while former Governor Charlie Christ campaigned for Obama.
A large focus in Florida from both campaigns was on the retirees and elderly living in Florida, many of who rely on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. The Obama campaign argued that Paul Ryan’s budget would turn Medicare into a voucher system. The plan would give seniors a set amount of money with which to purchase their own health plans and would cost each senior an additional $6,400, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. The Romney campaigned countered this claim, saying that it is not a voucher system, and that any new changes would not happen to current retirees or those nearing retirement. They also stated that the Affordable Care Act takes money from Medicare to help pay for the plan, while the Obama group said that Medicare is solvent through 2026 under Obamacare.
Another focus in Florida was on immigration. Obama received significant support from Puerto Ricans in Florida, as he believed that he had the best plan for comprehensive immigration reform and promised to work on it in a second term, even if he had failed to do so in his first term. He touted his DREAM Act-like executive order, which instructed his administration to focus deportation efforts on criminals rather than students and immigrants that have contributed to society. Romney gained the support of the more conservative Cubans living in South Florida, promising to strengthen the economy and minimize the size of government, two issues that concern Cubans.
Obama’s narrow win in Florida was not a result of his attacks on Romney’s approach to senior entitlements. According to the New York Times exit polls, almost 60% of voters 65 and older voted for Governor Romney, six points higher than the number that voted for McCain in 2008. Instead, it seemed the Obama campaign’s focus on minority groups helped it to victory in Florida. 60% of Hispanics and 95% of African-American voters supported the President.
Virginia – 13 Electoral College Votes
On Election Day, the RealClearPolitics polling average showed Obama with a 0.3 point lead in Virginia. Although at first it seemed that Romney might win this state, as more votes were counted in Fairfax County and the Norfolk area, Obama took the lead and was declared the winner with 50.8% of the vote. In the nine elections prior to 2008, Virginia had reliably voted Republican. Obama, however, won by seven points in 2008. The vote was much closer in this election. Romney’s campaign was determined to win the state back and made 42 visits between Romney and Ryan since June. Obama and Biden, more confident about their lead in the state, made only 32 campaign stops since June. $149 million in campaign ads reinforced these campaign stops from both campaigns. Of the $131 million, the Obama group spent over $67 million, while the Romney group spent over $82 million. Governor Bob McDonnell has been a large supporter of Mitt Romney.
The September 2012 unemployment rate in Virginia was 5.9%, two whole points below the national average. Republicans, including Romney, argued that this happened because of the Republican governor, but the Obama campaign did its best to take credit for the high level of employment in this battleground state. 20% of the electorate in Virginia is African-American, which gave Obama an opportunity to focus on a section of his base and argue how he has made the economy better for them. Large African-American voter turnout in 2008 allowed the President to win Virginia, but this demographic proved to be a greater struggle during this election cycle.
One point of contention for both parties is over military spending, a key issue in Virginia. The state has a large number of military bases, including Norfolk. It works with many military contractors and is home to countless veterans. Obama claimed that Romney wants to increase the defense budget by $2 trillion, a number that has concerned soldiers and veterans, but delighted contractors and ship construction workers. In response, Romney tied the President to the potential defense spending sequestration that resulted from a budget impasse, cuts that would devastate the Virginian economy. Ultimately, this debate over the budget expanded into broader foreign policy issues – Mitt Romney’s poor foreign trip and the Obama administration’s failure in Benghazi. Obama used this chance, however, to highlight ending the war in Iraq, the scaling down of troop numbers in Afghanistan, and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The coal industry in Virginia gave both candidates the opportunity to talk about their energy policies. Romney criticized Obama for initiating a “war on coal,” arguing that the President is killing the industry and, by consequence, putting the environment over American jobs. Obama instead said he supports an “all of the above” approach; one that favors renewable energy while using some domestic oil and gas. Romney believed that this was not enough, and instead advocated for energy independence on the continent by 2020, a plan that focuses on opening up resources found at home.
It’s clear that Virginia’s economic growth and Obama’s foreign policy approach paid off in the election. According to New York Times, 57% of moderates and 93% of voters who thought the economy was at least “good” supported the Obama-Biden ticket. Voters believed that Obama’s economic policies favored the middle-class and poor rather than the wealthy. His push for the African-American vote also proved fruitful as 94% of African-Americans supported him.
Ohio – 18 Electoral College Votes
On Election Day, the RealClearPolitics polling average had Obama winning by 2.9 points in Ohio, a number slightly higher than the margin the President won by (50.1% to 48.2%). Ohio received the bulk of the attention from both campaigns in the days leading up to the election. The saying “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation” is so accurate that Ohio has voted for the winning candidate in the past 13 elections, including 2012. $148 million were spent on campaign ads in the state, $71 million from Obama’s group and $77 million from the Romney camp. Romney and Ryan visited the Buckeye State 67 times since June 2012, while Obama and Biden visited 54 times. Romney realized that losing Ohio would severely limit his path to 270 votes, and so his team focused in on this state in the final days of the campaign, an effort that ultimately failed.
Many attribute Obama’s success in Ohio to his decision to bailout the U.S. auto industry, saving thousands of jobs in the area. Obama highlighted this decision as the election grew close, and contrasted his actions with Romney’s op-ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Romney countered by saying that he did not actually want the auto companies to close, but instead go through the private bankruptcy process rather than be bailed out by the government. In addition, Romney ran ads saying that Chrysler and General Motors both plan to outsource jobs to China, a claim that top executives from both companies sharply rejected. Romney’s false arguments on the auto industry added up and Obama won support, especially from labor unions, for his decision save the auto industry.
The September unemployment rate in Ohio was 7%, a point lower than the national average. This number, in addition to the auto rescue, gave the President a perfect opportunity to spread his economic message. He presented the steady GDP growth numbers, the 5.4 million private-sector jobs added over 32 straight months of job creation, and the deficit that has gotten smaller each year, all under his administration.
In Ohio and in other swing states across the nation, Obama campaigned on Obamacare, showing off the popular parts of the law while staying silent on the controversial mandate. He spoke to youth, reminding them that they can stay on their parents plan until 26. He communicated with women, telling them that they can receive contraception, mammograms, and domestic abuse counseling under the health care law. He told voters that they can no longer be denied for pre-existing conditions and that health insurance premiums can no longer be used excessively for executive bonuses. Mitt Romney countered by saying that he would keep all of these popular parts, but the Obama campaign argued that he would not have a way to pay for it.
The auto bailout gave Obama tremendous momentum, as Ohio is the second largest state, behind Michigan, that would have been devastated by the industry collapse. 59% of voters in Ohio approved the bailout, according to New York Times exit polls. The consistent job growth in the state as well as voter outlook on the economy also translated into large support. As in other states across the nation, the President received enormous backing from minorities and women, giving him a win in the Buckeye State.
Four More Years
Obama’s 332-206 landslide victory forces a few conclusions about the election and the candidates.
Big money doesn’t win. Liberals, and even some Conservatives, griped about the role that the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling would have on the election cycle and how Republicans backed by wealthy corporations and interest groups would sweep the election. In the three states mentioned, Republicans outspent Democrats by several million dollars, and that does not even include the enormous spending by super-PACs. The Obama campaign’s decision to run a “grass-roots” campaign by not accepting PAC money did not hurt him in the election and showed that unlimited spending does not have a place in a democratic process.
The nation is moving forward and is on the right path. Despite distraction issues, this election came down to jobs and the economy. President Obama presented steady economic growth under his administration and contrasted it with Romney’s work in Massachusetts and at Bain Capital. Governor Romney claimed that growth was not enough, but it was a message that failed. Voters across the nation disagreed – steady progress beats an unsure future in the hearts and minds of the electorate.
There is something fundamentally wrong with Mitt Romney if he could not win on the economy alone. Incumbents rarely win when unemployment is as high as it is and the Presidency should have been a shoe-in for the former governor. Many attribute his demise to his personality. Romney seemed robotic to voters in the primaries and in the election up until the first debate. His affluence and refusal to show tax returns put him out of touch with the middle-class and comments like ‘47%’ tore him from even more voters. His aide’s Etch-a-Sketch remark about how Romney can reverse all of his extreme positions from the primaries when the general election started put a spotlight on the number of time he had flip-flopped on issues. While thinking in the voting booth, Americans must have asked themselves that if Mitt Romney is willing to strap a dog to the top of his car while driving, what would stop him from taking America for a ride as well?
The Electoral College is outdated. It was originally put in place because the Founding Fathers believed the electorate was too uneducated to choose a president. Did the three states Florida, Virginia, and Ohio actually decide the election? No. Obama could have won reelection with 272 electoral votes while losing all three of these swing states. They decided the election in that both candidates spent an incomprehensible amount of resources in these states, while ignoring other states, all because the election could have come down to a single state. Why should a Cleveland voter’s decision matter more than a voter’s choice in San Francisco in deciding the President of the United States? In short, it shouldn’t. Obama won the popular vote and the Electoral College – the entire American electorate spoke, but only a few voices mattered.