Back in September, David Wasserman, with the Cook Political Report, discussed the election outlook during the Southwest Ag Issues Summit in Austin, Texas. The feeling at the time was that the presidential election was too close to call with President Obama perhaps picking up support following the Democratic National Convention.
The Cook Report also suggested Democrats would pick up between 10 and 15 seats in the House of Representatives and that Republicans could pick up a seat or two in the Senate. Neither chamber would see enough change, Wasserman said, to tip control to either party.
Wasserman recently spoke at the annual Texas Commodity Symposium in Amarillo and offered a post-mortem of sorts on earlier predictions.
The September analysis was pretty accurate. Democrats picked up eight seats in the House of Representatives, but the Republicans failed to gain in the Senate as the Democrats picked up two.
Wasserman said back in September that President Obama was vulnerable because of the economy. He said then that the economy, especially unemployment, was Obama’s biggest challenge. “The current unemployment rate is not where a president typically wants it to be for re-election,” he said. “Also, the gross domestic product is below 2. By all measures, Obama should be losing. So why not?”Likeability, or lack of it, was a major challenge for Governor Romney back then.
In his most recent remarks, Wasserman said the presidential election turned on three key points: a new “demographic reality,” improved perceptions of the economy, and campaign quality.
The new demographics show a decrease in the voting strength of white America. Ronald Reagan captured 56 percent of the white vote in 1980 and won by 10 points. In 2012, Governor Romney captured 59 percent of the white vote and lost by 4 points. In 1980, the white share of the electorate stood at 88 percent. That share dropped to 72 percent in 2012.
Wasserman also said Obama’s “ground game” was superior with 678 field offices compared to Romney’s 252.
Back in the early fall, political forecasters were suggesting that for Obama to win re-election, he would have to re-energize his base and convince African American, Hispanic and young voters to vote in the numbers they did in 2008. Wasserman said then that Obama needed to “juice up the base,” to shore up support from Hispanics, African Americans, and young people.
Pollsters then were skeptical, but results show voter turnout of those three segments was significant.
The youth and Hispanic vote each increased by a percentage point; the African American vote remained the same as in 2008. Obama won all three by huge margins. The white vote was down by 2 points and Obama’s share of the white vote was down from 43 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2012.
Wasserman said “an improved perception of the economy” also helped President Obama, even though he “has spent much of his presidency in the danger zone,” with a GDP below 2 percent. “But, just in the nick of time, unemployment’s small drop breaks a big barrier,” he said. The unemployment rate’s drop below 8 percent was good news for Obama. “Above 9 percent is unfavorable for Obama; below 8 percent is favorable.”
Also, by Election Day people were expressing a more positive outlook on the economy. A survey showing that 44 percent thought the economy would improve in the next 12 months was the “most optimistic in three years.”
Campaign quality, Wasserman said, also favored Obama. Back in September, he said: “If Obama wins the election, he will win despite the economy and because of his campaign. If Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign.”
The “swing state ad strategy” was a crucial factor and the advantage went to the Obama camp. He won all but one (North Carolina) of the swing states. “Obama dominated the swing states,” Wasserman said.
The Democrats also had a better convention, he added, and pointed to the Democrats featuring President Clinton versus Republicans using Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair.
Wasserman gave Romney the edge on debate performance. “Also, Romney’s ‘pivot’ improved his image but not enough in the swing states.”
President Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy and the adulation he received from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, along with the endorsement of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, may have helped him with the popular vote but had no effect on the Electoral College numbers.
Romney’s comment about the 47 percent also hurt, Wasserman said. “The 2012 lesson: be careful when you refer to the ‘47 percent’ of Americans, you just might end up with them.” He showed the vote tally: Obama 50.9 percent; Romney 47.4 percent.
Wasserman said cooperation may still be a scarce commodity in Washington. He noted a “generational sea change in the House but not much partisan change; 166 House incumbents will have less than three years experience in Congress.”
He said this Congress remains “the most polarized House in history.” Blue Dog Democrat numbers have declined from 55 in 2008 to 27 in 2010 to only 4 in 2012. He said the Tea Party has declined in popularity among the larger electorate but “Tea Party heroes ruled in House GOP primaries.”
Other demographic changes include: 26 states have minority-majority districts; minorities and women now make up a majority of House Democrats; white men still make up 88 percent of House Republicans.
He doesn’t expect Democrats to pick up enough House seats in 2014 to gain control. “The problem is: in 2012 there were 21 Republicans in Democratic-leaning House seats. Today, (there is) just six. Not much low-hanging fruit left.”
In 2014, Democrats have 20 seats to defend in the Senate and the Republicans have 13 to defend. “The GOP is likely to gain, but enough for a majority?”
Wasserman said the make-up of Congress may mean more partisanship and questions about resolution of the fiscal cliff, the Bush tax cuts, defense spending cuts, domestic spending cuts, the farm bill and “Medicare Doc Fix.”
In 2013, “68 percent of anti-TARP Republicans will still be in the House.”