The US Presidential election was a lesson in targeting your audience.
Obama won because he was smart and concentrated on winning what and who he needed. Romney lost because he had to win over a majority of the nation. It’s a lesson in politics and public relations – identify who you need to win over and go talk to them.
Why did voters choose Obama?
Half the voters didn’t choose Obama, and many did not vote at all (a turn-out of under 60%). Both his popular vote and electoral college vote was down on 2008. He had only 1-2% more of the popular vote. Those who chose to stick with Obama did so because they wanted to believe his narrative about creating a new type of America – the type where a Black man can become President.
Why did they not choose Romney?
They did – half the voters. There will be recriminations about Romney being too moderate. But moderateness got him, and kept him, in the race. The problem was that Romney was divided by the Republican Party itself – which set him up with a divisive selection, then undermined him with hate and hyperbole. The campaign was clumsy initially, as Romney tried to be what he was not (like a global statesman). It got on track when Romney was free to be himself. Since he was only 1-2% short on the popular vote, Romney might regret his tactical approach to winning over the swing states.
The divided nation
An evenly divided nation provides a battleground for gaming the political system. In 2008 Obama took the high road, asking disillusioned middle class (and white) voters to believe his story of hope. In 2012 the story had lost its magic. So rather than win back these swinging voters, he concentrated on getting out the left-leaning vote in States where he needed the electorate college votes. For example, the traditional swing state of Ohio was visited 90 times in the campaign.
It’s not that Romney didn’t look to those pivot States, but he also had to introduce himself across the whole nation – and to Black and Hispanic voters in particular. He had to introduce the idea of himself as a President. That is why he mellowed his rhetoric and restyled his demeanor to appear more inclusive and understanding.
At time of writing, control of the Senate looks like going to the Democrats, while the Republicans look like holding the Congress.
Republican control of the lower House means Obama’s ability to work and initiate new plans are as limited as they were in his first term.
A distinguishing feature of this campaign was the large amount of criticism of opponents. There were 1 million advertisements run during the campaign – 40% more than 2008. By May this year the adverts run by the candidates were already 70% negative.
It would have been clear early to both camps that running on policy positions was not going to help them. Obama did not have much in the way of gains over his term, and the recession narrowed his options. Romney did not have much in the way of plans, and he faced an incumbent that had promised and not delivered. So the obvious answer for both of them was to make voters dislike their competitor.
Voters are said to hate negative campaigning, but strategists know that negative works – in the right circumstances. The role of SuperPacs in this campaign increased the amount of the attack-politics. 86% of adverts run by these groups of separately funded candidate’s supporter groups were negative.
The still divided nation
The US has become intensely divided along left-right lines in the past twenty years. Going back over elections through the 1900s the country easily swung in uniformly behind the “best” Presidential candidate. Review for yourself at the cool 270towin. Some have claimed this is a response to complicated issues, but this doesn’t stand up. You can’t get more high stakes, contentious and difficult than depression, war, cold war, and energy crises. I think, from afar, the USA’s even and intense split is due to having fewer significant issues, while experiencing a cultural crisis in nationhood. There have been fewer things to really worry about in the prosperous nation, so the emphasis has gone into differences in cultural and lifestyle preferences. These differences were previously tolerated. They no longer are; it’s currently a contest of cultural outlooks.
More of the same from here
We should not expect too much from Obama; the recession is set to continue for the better part of his term, Congress is held by the Republicans, and Obama doesn’t have any significant plans.
This won’t trouble voters for a little while. More of the same is what half of American voters chose today.