Why Republicans should have won the election (and why they didn’t)

November 27, 2012

Going into election day 2012, Republicans were very confident that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney had a 50-50 chance of winning the presidency. It didn't turn out that way.

Answering the "why" posed by that discrepancy is of critical import for Republicans as they move forward to 2014 and 2016. And, a new piece by Glen Bolger, a GOP pollster and partner at Public Opinion Strategies, explains both why Republicans should have won -- and why they didn't -- as succinctly as anything we have read since the election.

Here's Bolger's argument in a nutshell (and here's Austin Powers in a nutshell): If the electorate had looked like 2004, Romney would have won -- and perhaps won easily.  But, it didn't. And, it won't in the future.

To wit:

* Romney won self-described independent voters by 5 points -- 50 percent to 45 percent (George W. Bush lost independents to John Kerry by 1 point in 2004.) 

* Romney won voters earning between $50,000 and $100,0000 by 52 percent to 46 percent. That's less than what Bush got in 2004 (he won that group by 12) but they were 28 percent of the electorate in 2012 and just 18 percent electorate in 2004.

* Romney won white voters by 20 points, the largest margin ever for a Republican candidate the largest margin for a Republican candidate since 1984.

Concludes Bolger: 

Mitt Romney put together a coalition that just eight years ago would have won the presidential election (hence the data comparisons to George W. Bush). However, instead of whites being 77% of the electorate, they were 72% of the electorate. Instead of Republicans and Democrats being equal, Democrats far outnumbered Republicans, and washed out Romney’s advantage among Independents. Bush kept it close with younger voters (under age 40), while Obama won them decisively....Underscoring that there are considerably more Democrats than Republicans, Romney was the first national candidate in exit polling history to decisively win Independents and lose the election (John Kerry won Independents, but by just one point).

The math, according to Bolger, is determinative. There are simply more Democrats than Republicans in the country -- as we have noted before, the consistency of Democrats' party ID edge is striking -- and that means that winning independents is no longer the whole shebang for the GOP. Neither is winning the white vote since it's hard to imagine a Democratic candidate sinking significantly lower than 39 percent among that voting bloc in future elections. (The white vote for Democratic presidential candidates has also been very consistent; since 1992, no Democratic nominee has received less than 39 percent or more than 43 percent of the white vote.) 

Concludes Bolger: "Thus, to have a chance, Republicans have to appeal to Hispanics. It’s simple math, but it’s hard to do. We have to start today."

He's absolutely right -- on both fronts. (Hell, we devoted an entire chapter in "The Gospel According to the Fix" to Republicans' Hispanic problem and how it will doom them as a national party unless they can solve it.)

Winning a larger portion -- if not a majority -- of the Hispanic vote is a sine qua non for Republicans going forward. But, knowing you need to do better among Hispanics and actually doing so are two very different things.  And, with the exception of George W. Bush's 44 percent showing among Hispanics in 2004, there is little recent evidence that the GOP can make inroads in that critical community.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · November 27, 2012