The voting is over. The finger-pointing has begun. After covering every presidential election since 1980, I find such exercises rarely useful, if sometimes cathartic.
Rather than casting blame, let's do something productive. Here are six take-aways I gleaned from the 2012 election results:
1) There truly is a demographic tidal wave sweeping over the nation -- and Republicans ignore it at their own peril.
The percentage of the electorate made up of non-Hispanic Caucasians ("white voters") has dropped from 91 percent to 72 percent since the 1970s.
Hispanics favored President Obama by more than 40 percentage points over Republican Mitt Romney. The Latino vote tipped the balance of power in Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, and gave the Democratic incumbent a cushion in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Iowa. If Republicans don't make inroads -- and fast -- Arizona, Tennessee and then Texas will become competitive at the presidential level.
Other demographic warning signs for the GOP:
2) Asian Americans favored Obama by 3-to-1. As recently as 2000, they were a Republican-leaning swing voter bloc.
3) The percentage of the electorate that identified as white evangelical Protestant (a strong GOP bloc) is declining. In Virginia, their smaller share of the electorate accounted for Romney's margin of defeat. Romney won 78 percent of the white fundamentalist vote and still couldn't claim a majority in Virginia or Florida (and just barely in North Carolina).
4) The urban/rural split. Obama carried urban America by about the same percentage that Romney won in rural areas. Urban areas are growing. Rural areas are shrinking. Bad for Republicans.
5) The generation gap. Younger voters are the most Democratic age group. The oldest voters are the most Republican. Today's young voters will be picking presidents for decades after today's seniors have died.
6) The gender gap. Obama's support among women was almost the same from 2008 to 2012, while male voters shifted toward the GOP by double digits. Republicans can't stand pat as the party of old white men.
The Polls Were Right.
This is a big deal.
First, there is no liberal polling conspiracy, despite what you may have heard on talk radio. (It's a ridiculous notion, anyway, because Fox News' own polling was in line with the supposedly biased polls.)
The most important point is that almost every major pollster pinpointed the presidential results within the margin of error, despite the difficulty of getting a representative sample of American voters in this era of mobile communications and reduced landline usage.
There is a Myth of the Undecided Voter.
You saw way too many stories on television about undecided voters. During every debate, we had televised focused groups of undecided voters.
There is no such thing as an "undecided voter."
People call themselves "undecided" as a snapshot in time along their journey toward a candidate.
What we really should be analyzing are "persuadable voters." This is the 10 to 15 percent of the electorate that is not locked into supporting one party or the other. But let's drop this "undecided" charade.
Independent Voters are no Longer the Key "swing" Group.
Let's face it: Most of the time, most people who call themselves Independents end up voting Republican. (2008 was an exception that proves the rule.)
We need to develop a "shopping cart" of swing blocs that includes moderates: For a Democrat to win the presidency in this decade, they'll probably need to win 55 percent of moderates. For a Republican to win in the foreseeable future, they'll probably need to win 55 percent of Independents.
Suburbs Can't be Analyzed as a Single Unit.
Mitt Romney carried America's suburbs, 51 percent to 47 percent.
It doesn't tell us anything about who will win key swing states.
The reason: Suburban voters act very differently based on the region of the nation.
In the Mid-Atlantic and West Coast states, suburban voters leaned heavily Democratic in this election. They helped bury Romney in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and Virginia (Washington, D.C.). Other suburban Democratic bastions: San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
In the South, suburbanites tend to be heavily Republican. Think Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.
In Western swing states, they tend to be swing voters. Look at Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Bottom line: Any analysis of suburban voters must take into account the region you're studying to be close to accurate.
We have to rethink the way we contemplate the role of money in politics.
Campaign spending in 2012 is expected to top $6 billion. For what? A status quo election.
The biggest success story of the year may have been Karl Rove's ability to separate conservative billionaires from many millions of their dollars.
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