Sorry, but Failure to Rally the Base Didn’t Make the Difference

There was a lot of fuss on the political talk shows today about the fact that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, received some 2 million fewer votes this year than were cast for John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee.

Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity both suggested that this means the Republicans didn’t do enough to mobilize the party base, and that this may have cost Romney the election.

However, President Obama’s vote total compared even less favorably with his tally in 2008. This time he got 9 million fewer votes than last time. So, if we follow the logic, the Democrats did an even worse job of mobilizing their base, yet Obama had enough wiggle room to win by a close margin, rather than the comfortable margin he achieved four years ago.

Obama’s nationwide popular-vote lead, with some votes yet to be counted, stands at about 2.9 million. Even if we could somehow award Romney the 2 million votes that slipped away from the Republicans this time, Obama would still be some 900,000 votes ahead in the popular count.

Well, but we all know that it isn’t the popular vote total that wins elections, it is the electoral votes. If we gave Romney back those 2 million lost McCain votes, could he perhaps have won the electoral vote even if he lost the popular vote?

Sorry, but it doesn’t look that way. The lost McCain votes were distributed last time mainly among states that were never in play during this year’s election. They were concentrated mainly in states that would have gone to either Obama or Romney no matter what.

As I write this, 31 states and the District of Columbia have counted every last ballot, while nineteen states still have at least a few to count.

Among the group that is done counting, the Republicans attracted fewer votes in ten states and the District of Columbia.  Five of the states  showing Republican vote losses – Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, — were nonetheless carried by Romney by substantial margins.

A lot of the vote loss in those states might simply have been prompted by laziness – by people figuring that their states would go for Romney no matter what, so why bother bucking traffic to get to the polling place.

The Republicans also lost votes in California, D.C., Hawaii, New Mexico, Ohio and Vermont. Let’s set aside Ohio for the moment, and look at the others. There couldn’t  have been a single Republican in any of those states who thought Romney would win their electoral votes.  Many of them, too, must have concluded that there was little point in voting.

A considerable portion of the Republican vote loss, then, probably can be attributed to the very nature of the electoral college system, which gave people in solid red or blue states little incentive to vote.

OK, now let’s consider Ohio. Romney lost the state by about 103,000 votes, and he drew 84,000 fewer votes there than McCain. If the McCain votes could be magically restored to Romney, that certainly would narrow the margin, but it wouldn’t have closed it. Meanwhile, Obama lost a humongous 243,000 Ohio votes this time compared to last, yet he won the state anyway.

I don’t think any rational person can conclude that either party failed to rally its base in Ohio. If anything, that probably is the state where the parties tried their hardest. In spite of all the glad-handing and lapel-grabbing, both parties lost votes there — perhaps because the voters simply didn’t much like the candidates. Ohio just wasn’t destined to go to Romney.

What about the nineteen states that are still counting votes as we speak?
Six of them were considered sure things for the Republicans, eight of them sure things for the Democrats, and all of those voted according to form. Scratch them from consideration.

That leaves five states that were considered by at least some prognosticators to be part of the so-called battleground – Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Romney already has drawn more votes than McCain in all those states except Pennsylvania, and in Pennsylvania, even with votes still to count, Romney has almost equaled the McCain 2008 total.

Is anyone going to argue that either party failed to rally their base in any of those battleground states? Even if we generously hand Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes to Romney, on the ground that the Republicans didn’t start campaigning there soon enough, Obama would still win the election.

Let’s face the dreary fact once and for all: Obama won this election, and would have won it even if Romney had paid personal visits to every registered Republican. Let’s start looking for a winning strategy, because we sure didn’t come up with one this time.

Author Bio:

Arthur Louis spent more than forty years as a print journalist, with the Philadelphia Inquirer, McGraw-Hill, Fortune magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle, but he is not asking for sympathy. He is the author of two non-fiction books: The Tycoons, and Journalism and Other Atrocities, as well as a novel, The Little Champ. In retirement, he has decided unilaterally that he is a profound political pundit.
Author website:
  • AllenJ

    The main problem with Republicans is that they appealed to a shrinking demographic – white men and, to a lesser extent, white women. Take a look at the historic trends – Colorado used to be reliably Republican. It isn’t any more. Why? Look at the influx of Latino voters. They lean Democratic – particularly because of the Republican’s anti-immigrant policies.

    In fact the defeat the Republicans is even deeper than losing the White House. The Republicans even lost the popular vote for the House of Representatives. If it weren’t for extensive gerrymandering in the red states (with the equivalent in a smaller number of blue states), the Republicans would be the minority in the House, too.

    Unless the Republicans start to identify the new demographic in the United States and dial back on the social conservatism (which isn’t embraced by the urban young) it will continue its decline into irrelevance.

    • artlouis

      I haven’t studied this myself, but Limbaugh claims that the Latinos
      don’t lean Democratic because of immigration policy, but because the
      Dems offer them social welfare programs. He points out that Reagan
      declared amnesty for millions of illegals in 1985, and in the 1988
      election Latinos continued to vote 70 percent Democrat.

      I don’t
      think the GOP can or should try to out-Democrat the Democrats. It is a
      losing strategy. What votes they get now can be attributed to the fact
      that they offer strong alternatives to the Democrats on many key issues.
      The Democrats fear the widespread attractiveness of many GOP positions.
      If the GOP turns itself into the Amen Party, it will never win again,
      which no doubt is why Democrats (are you one?) are prodding them to
      discard their principles.

      Obama dropped from about 53.5 percent
      of the major-party votes in 2008 to 50+ percent this time. So the GOP is
      not “declining into irrelevance.” It enjoyed a creditable rebound
      against a charismatic incumbent. Incumbents are tough to beat. If Obama
      stumbles in his second term, which seems inevitable, then the next Dem
      nominee could be beaten badly. Only once since 1948 has either party won
      three consecutive presidential elections (1980-8).

      • AllenJ

        I have to disagree with you on several counts. First of all, Rush Limbaugh is hardly a credible analyst of American political events. What he lacks in insight he compensates for in volume and rash statements. Second, Latinos will respond to Republicans provided that Republicans address their issues. GWB did that to some extent. Therefore, he had some success with them – particularly south Florida where they helped tip the balance for him in 2000.

        Yes, Obama dropped from 53.5% to less than 51% – after four years of really bad economic times. He was ripe for the pickin’ and yet the Republicans couldn’t muster a credible enough candidate or a platform to persuade a majority of Americans that it was time for a change. Don’t let Obama’s vote erosion give you any sense that the Republicans aren’t becoming irrelevant.

        There’s some indication that America has turned the corner economically and that Obama will probably get some credit for it, whether he deserves it or not. House prices have stabilized and are starting to rise. That’s a good sign. Also, the Dow Jones index has regained all of the ground lost since the crash in 2008 and more. If Obama were a socialist, that wouldn’t have happened.

        To answer your question, I am not a Democrat – never was. I am someone who believes that America is best off with a credible 2 party system Right now, I don’t see Republicans providing a credible alternative, at least on the national level, to the Democrats. We all lose as a result.

        • artlouis


          A lot of people knock Limbaugh without even listening to him. Their impression of him is gained second hand. He is a good analyst, one of the best. I wouldn’t have believed that until I actually started listening to him, because the mainstream media make him out to be an evil clown.

          I don’t know what the GOP can do to win Latino votes. Any suggestions? If Reagan’s amnesty didn’t help, then maybe that is not the real issue.

          As for the stock market, it has fallen nearly 4 percent in the week since Obama was elected. That doesn’t appear to be a vote of confidence. Many companies say they will have to lay off workers now that Obamacare is a done deal. Thanks, Barack.

          You say the Republicans should provide a credible alternative. No question that the Romney campaign provided an alternative. What do you suggest? I will say again that if the GOP crosses its fingers and pretends to be the same as the Democratic party, that will spell their doom. Is that what you want?

          • AllenJ


            Rush Limbaugh has no creds with me. He flunked everything in Southeast Missouri State and he has no experience in government policy or public administration. The fact that you call him a “good analyst” tells me that you aren’t serious in examinaing public policy issues.

            A short term drop in the stock market means nothing. A 4 year climb under the current administration is a better barometer. Right now, there are more debt problems in Europe. Those issues weigh on stock prices. It probably has more to do with stock prices than Obama’s re-election.

            Why should companies have to lay off workers due to “Obamacare’? I don’t see the health care mandate affecting them at all. This isn’t a payroll tax.

            No one is suggesting that the Republicans become the Democratic party. I would like to see Republicans get back to core principles – less government, lower taxes, sound economic management without the rest of the silliness such as social conservatism. Right now, a good re-examination of the tax code to close loopholes is welcome. Unfortunately, Romney never said what loopholes he would close. As for paying down debt, look at the tax breaks for people whose net income is over $250K. They don’t create jobs as a result of the tax breaks they recived. Corporations, not individuals create jobs (unless they hire pool boys, domestics, etc.).

          • artlouis

            The Dems would love to see the GOP tell the social conservatives to take a hike. That would deprive the GOP of tens of millions of votes that are now pretty reliable. It probably would bring about a three-party system, and the GOP would never win the presidency again. Are you sure you’re not a Democrat? How about if the Dems tell Occupy and the neo-Marxists and the black panthers and rest of their fringe to take a hike? When the Dems start giving the GOP advice, it is time for the latter to run the other way.

          • AllenJ


            To answer your question – I am definitely not a Democrat. The fact that you ask that question, leads me to think that your thought processes are binary – good/bad; Democrat/Republican; us/them, etc. That doesn’t suggest to me a sophisticated or nuanced thought process.

            I can’t be a Tea Party Republican. The social conservatives are a shrinking demographic and the Republicans aren’t making any moves to embrace the fastest growing segments of America – Latinos. I subscribe to the views of Frum and others who see that America is becoming less white and increasingly educated. Republicans will have to do some soul searching if they wish to remain a national party. You may not see them as conservatives but they are the future of the party is you wish to remain relevant.

            Bobby Jindal has spoken about this recently. I quote this from :

            “It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments – enough of that,” he said, according to Politico. “It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

            I agree.

          • artlouis

            I am going to take your word for it that you are not a Democrat, and that you want what is best for the GOP. It is a leap of faith, but anyway, what specifically would you like to see the GOP do to win more Latino votes?

            I don’t know the context of Jindal’s remark, but I would guess that he had in mind the two dopes who introduced “rape” into the campaign. They might as well have stuck their hands into a fire.

          • AllenJ

            Hey Art

            I’m glad that we’ve had this exchange. It’s been good to talk to traditional Republicans about the party. As for the “dopes” who introduced “rape” into the campaign, they are simply pointing out that human life, whether conceived by rape or otherwise, is still sacred. In fact, if you consider abortion to be a form of infanticide or murder, the innocent fetus conceived by this crime has the right to life like any other fetus. So the dopes are simply taking this position to its logical conclusion. For those who proclaim right-to-life but would allow abortions following rapes aren’t being strictly logical.

            I looked up the Republican party position on abortion. I’m sure that you’re familiar with it. For convenience, it may be found at this link:

            I could probably be described as a Frum Republican. I find his articles thought provoking and insightful.

  • Parker

    Mitt lost Michigan and Massachusetts. Ryan couldnt get the Republicans Wisconsin. What does that say about them?

    • Artlouis

      Did you expect Mitt to win Massachusetts? Abe Lincoln couldn’t have carried Massachusetts. In Wisconsin and Michigan he got more votes than McCain did, but couldn’t pull them out. That was the pattern in many key states. It just wasn’t his year. 

      • Patrick

         Frankly, anyone who thinks Mitt Romney, a Republican, could possibly get the ultra-liberal state Massachusetts is an idiot. The only Republican president who has won Massachusetts since it went Democratic in the 1930s was Ronald Reagan in both 1980 and 1984.

  • cmacrider

    Art:  Here are a few ideas that the GOP should consider in developing a winning strategy:
    1.  Stop incessantly constricting the concept of “the American Dream” to the individual who starts with no cash and eventually becomes a multi-millionaire.  Some people dream of becoming great school teachers, great bricklayers, great political pundits …. they never become multi-millionaires but America is a land where they can fulfill their dream.  Not everyone aspires to be a business person … but everyone has dreams about being the best that they can be in their chosen field.

    2.  Stop pussyfooting around the progressive/socialist idea.  Socialism is a worn out idea which had currency in the 19th and early 20th. century.  It is old fashioned, trapped in a time capsule … and has no applicability to a post industrial society immersed in a global economy.  Republicans should be laughing at these socialist Dems as remnants from an age gone by …. they should be touting their new conservative ideas as the ideas of the future … the ideas which bright young educated people embrace because they confront the issues of an information age and a global economy.  (There is a reason that Ron Paul has such a devoted following among the youth.)

    3. Get some people to run the campaign who know something about this Postmodern Age.  Today, people respond to computer and T.V. imagery not Cartesian logic.  They respond to catch phrases which capture the essence of the more detailed message.   In the first debate Romney used the phrase “trickle down government.”  That phrase contained imagery of crony capitalism … flagrant Obama patronage …. the economic privilege of a chosen few … and the waste inherent in Obama’s green energy fiasco’s.  It should have been heard over and over again so that when you heard Obama’s name … you thought …. “trickle down government and I’m not one of the privileged few.”

    Just a few suggestions

    • Artlouis

      All good thoughts. Thanks. It amazes me that there is so much yearning for socialism in a country that spent 75 years fighting it, and helped prove  that it didn’t work. I guess we will never wipe out envy.