by Gwen Moritz
Posted 11/12/2012 12:00 am
Updated 6 months ago
The pattern I noticed in last week’s election was this: Patterns matter. And politicians who can recognize and exploit patterns win.
Mitt Romney’s campaign ran on the same slogan that was successful for Bill Clinton in 1992 (“It’s the economy, stupid”) and planned for the same type of voters who were successful for George W. Bush in 2004, while the Obama campaign had its eye on the demographic trend line and worked hard to turn out the voters who could deliver a victory, despite the weak economy.
While running on the economy — which is and always shall be the No. 1 issue for American voters — the Romney camp didn’t talk about trend lines. They wanted to talk in snapshots — the unemployment rate is high now, the price of gasoline is high now, unprecedented numbers are now on food stamps.
But even the Romney camp recognized that the economic recovery has been gaining steam slowly and hoped to get credit for it: Romney repeatedly promised he could create 12 million jobs in four years, but that’s what Moody’s Analytics predicts the recovering U.S. economy will produce by 2016 no matter who is president. And the recovery of the job market will help with the federal deficit and the cost of the social safety net, no matter who is in the Oval Office, just as President John McCain would have similarly presided over high unemployment and ballooning food stamp rolls had he been elected in 2008.
(The inevitable recovery — assuming all concerned can avoid the “fiscal cliff” — is also the reason that Bill Clinton could confidently tell the Democratic National Convention: “If you will renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.”)
How much the typical American voter understands about economics may be beside the point. The typical American voter is changing. The Republican ticket still had strong support among white voters nationally (59 percent, according to exit polls) and even stronger than that (about 65 percent) among white males. But only 72 percent of voters were white, and 59 percent of 72 percent isn’t enough to win. Obama slaughtered Romney among voters who aren’t white and beat him handily among voters who don’t happen to be male.
Republican strategists who had apparently believed that the historic turnout among young and minority voters who supported Obama in 2008 was some kind of fluke were doing serious soul-searching on Wednesday. Those voters may have stayed home for the mid-term election in 2010, but they can clearly be mobilized by a candidate who targets them. Even Obama’s support of same-sex marriage (another national trend that can’t be denied or ignored) didn’t alienate black voters.
Now, Arkansans who were shocked to see Obama very nearly run the table among swing states can be forgiven. Outside Pulaski County, Fayetteville and a few parts of the Delta, it was hard to find anyone who supported President Obama. But Arkansas doesn’t look like the rest of America. Arkansas has one of the lowest concentrations of black voters of any Southern state, and our Hispanic population is small compared with that of Florida and Texas. The demographic oddity is not that Arkansas backed the Republican candidate by a 24-point margin but that Arkansas had remained Democratic on the state level as long as it had.
And that trend line was also on full display last week. As smarter political observers than I have already noted, our state has jumped on the Republican bandwagon just as the rest of the country has started to jump off. (Suspect national polls that “oversampled” Democrats turned out to be correct.)
Tuesday was historic for Arkansas Republicans — they captured all four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and will control the state Senate and probably the state House for the first time since Reconstruction. But even those gains were a continuation of a trend that was undeniable in 2010. If anything, Tuesday may have been something of a disappointment for the GOP in Arkansas because the Republican domination wasn’t more complete.
But before you conclude that Arkansas is becoming more conservative in every way, take note of some other trends:
- There is a limit to the right-wing nuttery that Arkansans will accept. A typically moderate Arkansas Democrat is still preferable to the likes of Loy Mauch, Jon Hubbard and Charlie Fuqua.
- Three more counties — Benton, Madison and Sharp — decided to "go wet," accelerating a trend that began with Marion County in 2006 and continued with Boone and Clark counties in 2010.
- The medical marijuana proposal came surprisingly close to passage on its first try, and I suspect a better crafted referendum would have won. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
(Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.)