Whites Stayed Home and Re-Elected Obama


Now that all the data is in, the fundamental reason for Mitt Romney’s defeat is apparent, if largely unreported. It is not just that blacks, Latinos and single women showed up in record numbers at the polls. It’s that whites didn’t.

The final numbers suggest that 91.6 million votes were cast by whites — seven million less than the 98.6 million cast in 2008! Meanwhile, 16.6 million blacks voted, 300,000 more than in 2008 and 11 million Latinos voted, 1.7 million more votes than were cast by Hispanics in 2008.

We lost because whites stayed home. Particularly among the elderly, the voter turnout was disappointing with seniors casting only 16 percent of the vote, much less than had been anticipated. (Seniors were the only age group that President Obama lost by a significant margin — 15 points).

Why didn’t whites vote and why didn’t we all spot it sooner?

Impact of Sandy: There was no good national polling after Sandy struck. Gallup, for example, suspended its polling. At the last minute, it put together a national sample — with lots of disclaimers about the dangers of inaccuracies due to the difficulty of sampling storm-hit areas — and it showed a slight Romney lead.

Romney was, in fact, leading before Sandy. His chances blew away in the storm with the famous bi-partisan photo of Governor Chris Christie with Obama. And there was no way to measure the impact of Sandy since there could not logistically be any polling. Why was I wrong? I’m a pollster, not a meteorologist!

But the real question is why the support for Romney among whites was so shallow that the winds of Sandy blew it away. The answer lays in the fundamental strategic mistake the Romney campaign and the super PACs made in June and July — of not answering Obama’s Bain Capital attacks.

These withering attacks undermined Romney’s standing among white voters and led directly to their diminished turnout. The Romney campaign and the super PACs were so wedded to their attack ads that they failed to realize that Bain posed a mortal threat to the credibility of their candidate. Many other consultants joined me in pleading in vain for a reply to the Bain attacks, but none was forthcoming.

There is a very good story to be told about Bain, and it was masterfully captured in an ad produced by Romney media guru Stuart Stevens. Unfortunately, it aired for only a limited time and there was no follow up. Had that very ad been run more, Romney would, in my opinion, have been elected president!

The Republican consultants are so enamored with negative ads that they do not appreciate the impact of rebuttal media. It has the capacity to wipe away negative ads and trigger a backlash against the candidate who airs them. But the doctrine of always attack — reminiscent of the French and British generals in World War I — does not permit rebuttals, only new negatives.

And we paid the price.

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