Debunking myths about the 2012 election
By ROBERT F. RICH
Since the election results were reported on Nov. 6, commentators have offered a series of analyses which are superficial, misleading, and fall into the category of myths concerning the 2012 election. There are some major lessons from this election that are unprecedented and worthy of attention.
The most common observation seems to be that after two years and $6 billion we, the people, have simply recreated the status quo: President Obama was reelected, the Democrats retain control of the United States Senate and the Republicans retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But, the outcome is really much more complex and interesting than this superficial initial impression.
The election results represent a tale of two different Americas and they point to the fact that the United States is a very badly divided country in terms of ideology and political views. President Obama and Gov. Romney appealed to different demographic profiles and the Hispanic vote is not the only dimension worthy of our attention. President Obama won 93 percent of the African-America vote, 71 percent of Hispanics, and 73 percent of Asians. Overall, Obama captured 80 percent of the votes of the non-white population as he did in 2008. In contrast, Gov. Romney won 59 percent of the votes of non-Hispanic whites. Mitt Romney also captured the votes of 61 percent of white men while President Obama received the votes of 55 percent of women. Moreover, single women voted differently than married women. 54 percent of single women call themselves "Democrats" while only 36 percent of married women do. Single women make up 23 percent of the voters in 2012 as compared with 19 percent in 2000.
There are important policy implications of these demographics. For example, 60 percent of white voters think government should do less while 58 percent of Hispanics think government shoud do more as do 73 percent of blacks. It is also worth noting that more than half of the U.S. House of Representatives Democratic caucus is made up of women, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. This is the first time this has occurred ever in history.
Despite all of the commentators' talk of a very close or even "razor-thin" election, the actual results were different. With 332 electoral votes, this represents a landslide victory for President Obama. Moreover, with 51 percent of the popular vote, he won by a bigger margin than half of the presidents since 1824.
In terms of wisdom concerning elections, it seems to be common knowledge that the health of the economy will determine the election outcome. Clearly, Gov. Romney felt that this would propel him into the presidency. Yet, this is the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt that an incumbent president has won re-election when the unemployment rate was above 7.1 percent. And, even though the majority of "likely voters" reported that they had more confidence in Mitt Romney's handling of the economy, President Obama was nevertheless re-elected.
One of the major lessons of the 2012 election is the great importance of redistricting. Every 10 years, there is a new census of the U.S. population. With the census, each state is able to construct a new electoral map made of districts and areas where votes will be cast. The political party which controls a state legislature and governorship will control the construction of the new map. Consequently, district lines can be drawn which ensure the victory of a particular political party. This phenomenon explains why the Republicans retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. In Illinois, it explains why the Democrats have the largest margin in the legislature since 1920.
Despite all of the complaints about the pollsters and how "biased" they are, the truth is that the pollsters had it correct. If anything, they underestimated the turnout of youths and of minorities. But, a reading of the polls the weekend before the election would have pointed to the fact that President Obama was going to win in all of the "swing states" except for North Carolina.
Finally, an analysis of this election would be incomplete without underscoring the impact that the Supreme Court had with the Citizens United decision. The SuperPACs played a very significant role because of their unlimited resources and the fact that corporations and associations could behave as individuals. This is a dimension which should be reexamined in the future.
Overall, President Obama will try to govern a very divided country where the demographics are changing and where future elections will continue to reflect these changes.
Robert F. Rich is a retired professor of law, medicine, political science and public health and the retired director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.