“It’s a proven political strategy, which is, give a bunch of money from the government to a group and guess what? They vote for you.”
— Mitt Romney, speaking privately to donors, Nov. 14, 2012
We had thought we wouldn’t have to fact-check Mitt Romney again, or at least for a while. But his private remarks this week to a group of donors require some closer examination.
The quote above makes it sound as though the Obama campaign was handing out “walking around money” to get out the vote.
Instead, Romney was speaking of what he called “gifts” to specific demographic groups, such as “forgiveness of college loan interest” to voters under the age of 29, “free health care” to African Americans, “amnesty” to the children of illegal immigrants (to lure Latinos) and “free contraceptives” for young, college-age women.
Republicans have quickly distanced themselves from Romney’s remarks, which struck many as tin-eared or sour grapes. (Latinos, for instance, also might have been turned off by Romney’s harsh rhetoric on immigration during the primaries.) It is also worth recalling that Romney in the presidential debates said the opposite about many of these so-called “gifts,” frequently suggesting he had virtually the same policies.
We will leave the political analysis to others, but we wondered: How do Romney’s assertions stand up to the facts revealed in the national exit polls?
Let’s compare how Obama did in 2008 versus 2012 among the groups mentioned by Romney, using the exit polls from the two elections. The figures below show the percentage of votes that Obama received. (We used the data for non-married women because the sample size for single women ages 18-22 is too small to be useful.)
Voters ages 18-29 [percent of overall vote: 19 percent in 2012, 18 percent in 2008]
2012: 60 percent 2008: 66 percent
African Americans [percent of overall vote: 13 percent in 2012, 13 percent in 2008]
2012: 93 percent 2008: 95 percent
Hispanics [percent of overall vote: 10 percent in 2012, 9 percent in 2008]
2012: 71 percent 2008: 67 percent
Non-married women [percent of overall vote: 23 percent in 2012, 20 percent in 2008]
2012: 67 percent 2008: 70 percent
First of all, the data show that Obama’s percentage of the vote declined for three of these groups — among young voters, African Americans and non-married women. His share of the vote went up (marginally) for Hispanics.
There was not much difference in the percentage of the overall vote for these groups, either. You can see slight increases among the youth, Hispanics and unmarried women, but that is well within the margin of error for the poll — which is plus or minus 3 percent.
Indeed, considering the margin of error, the only significant shift was the six-percentage-point drop in support for Obama among voters ages 18 to 29. As Romney noted, young voters “turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008,” but their actual voting pattern completely undercuts Romney’s assertion. He managed to win a larger share of those voters than John McCain did in 2008.
In some critical battleground states, Obama did boost his share of the vote, such as a 14-percentage-point gain among Hispanics in Colorado and a five-percentage-point gain among voters ages 18 to 29 in Florida. But that seems more a function of a superior get-out-the-vote operation.
The Pinocchio Test
Romney’s analysis of the election results is not borne out by the actual election data. In effect, Obama reassembled a slightly less robust version of the coalition that first elected him four years ago — and Romney failed to get enough votes to overcome that.
We don’t mean to knock a man when he’s down. But Romney’s comments suggest that his understanding of the election results needs some serious rethinking.
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