Lessons learned from an extraordinary election
Marshall Helmberger

Like every election, the Nov. 6 vote offered a snapshot of the state of politics in the U.S., and the 2012 results provide some important lessons for the future.

While Democrats are rightfully rejoicing at the election outcome, Republicans are wondering about the future of their party, and how it can remain viable in an era of rapid demographic transition.

Among the lessons that both sides should be heeding are these:

• A party that’s out of touch loses elections.

As a candidate and as a president, Barack Obama has plenty of shortcomings, and with a still-struggling economy, this was a race that a sensible opposition party could easily have won. But sensible, reasonable, or even rational, are not words that apply to the unfortunate amalgam of anger, paranoia, and magical thinking that characterizes today’s GOP.

The party’s ideological framework survives in 2012 mostly through the constant recitation of misinformation by media sources that exist solely to maintain what has become an alternate version of reality, one where Barack Obama is a Muslim socialist from Kenya, where climate change is a vast left-wing conspiracy, and where opinion polls and jobs data are skewed to discourage Republican voters.

For years, Republicans believed that the proliferation of conservative media sources, from Fox News to talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere, was an asset to their movement. Instead, the GOP base and these various media have formed an unhealthy symbiotic relationship that is harming the conservative movement. The conservative faithful get a whitewashed version of the news that fits every one of their preconceptions, and the conservative media get a faithful following from an audience that increasingly can’t live without them.

Over the years, this relationship has sent all involved careening further and further from reality— hence the look of disbelief on so many Republican faces on Election Night. They went into the voting booths on Nov. 6 convinced they were going to win in a landslide, because that’s what the pundits on Fox News and other conservative media were telling them. Mitt Romney didn’t even prepare a concession speech. The fireworks display that was supposed to celebrate Romney’s victory was already in place on Boston Harbor.

It was Fox News itself that gave the game away on Election Night as conservative political operative Karl Rove sputtered in protest at Fox News’s reluctant call that Ohio, and thus the election, had gone to President Obama. Rove objected with a recitation of conservative precincts he insisted had yet to be counted, and which were sufficient to turn the tide in the state.

Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s response was telling: “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?” It’s a question that Republicans should be asking themselves on a whole host of fronts.

• A majority of Americans reject Republican policies.

To conservative true believers, the rejection of Republican policies represents a moral failing, or ignorance, on the part of voters. But that’s just more of the “math that Republicans use to make themselves feel better.”

Voters rejected conservative policies because they live in the real world, where Republican policies have failed miserably. There is a reason that the majority of Americans still blame Republicans, particularly President Bush, for the global financial collapse from which we have been struggling to recover for the past four years— they have memory. They also have perspective and most Americans knew that the road to prosperity was going to be a long one in the wake of such an economic disaster.

Most voters are old enough to remember what life was like under Republican control—wars of choice, tax cuts for the wealthy that fueled only higher deficits, and the slashing of public investment and the social safety net. And let’s not forget the 2005 push to privatize Social Security, or the 2011 push to do the same to Medicare. Mitt Romney offered up more of the same toxic brew. Republicans shouldn’t wonder why the majority of Americans said no thanks.

• Liberal fears over the impact of big money were overstated.

In the wake of the Citizens United decision, outside money poured into the 2012 election like never before— and the vast majority was spent on behalf of Republican candidates, which had many liberals decrying the selling of our democracy.

But in the end, the big money had surprisingly little impact, other than driving swing state voters to unplug their televisions. As even Donald Trump (a man with a tenuous grip on reality) was able to discern, billionaires spent a whole lot of money on the election and got exactly zilch for their trouble. The endless attacks had almost no impact on public opinion, becoming little more than white noise to voters. The good news is, the billionaires may think twice before trying to buy elections in the future.

• Minorities and young people are getting used to voting.

This is the one that should make Republicans sit up and take notice. If they don’t, they may as well change their party’s symbol to a mastodon, because they’re headed for extinction. It turns out most blacks and Hispanics see a constructive role for government, particularly in providing opportunity and a seat at the table for groups that have historically been left behind in America. Young people are worried about climate change, because they are the generation that will have to deal with the increasingly unsettling consequences. They are also the generation that will have to deal with the effects of our national debt, but that hardly endears them to Republicans. Despite what they may say on Fox News, Republicans invariably make our deficit problems worse. Sorry, it just comes down to math.

• Most polls weren’t skewed.

We were never headed for a Mitt Romney landslide, despite the refrain to the contrary on Fox News and from the conservative punditry at large. George Will, it turns out, lives in the same fantasy world as Glenn Beck.

In the end, if you took the average of the polls (which consistently showed Obama headed towards victory), you ended up with a projection remarkably close to the final outcome. Just ask Nate Silver, who analyzes polling for the New York Times.

Some polls, of course, were skewed—mostly Gallup and Rasmussen, which used likely voter screens that filtered out huge numbers of Obama voters. They’ll need to rethink their methodology before the next election.

• The tide has turned on the religious right.

For years, the Republicans used ballot initiatives, like gay marriage bans, to boost turnout from religious conservatives. Last week showed that, outside the South, such tactics will be self-defeating in the future. If anything, the proposed gay marriage ban in Minnesota boosted turnout of younger voters and helped the DFL reclaim a U.S. House seat, reclaim the state Legislature, and nearly defeat Michele Bachmann in the state’s most heavily Republican district.

• Gerrymandering makes a difference.

It’s been suggested that Americans voted again for divided government— but that’s not actually the case. More Americans voted for a Democratic-led House than a Republican one, it’s just that gerrymandered House districts managed to thwart the public’s will.

The 2010 elections, which gave Republicans big gains in many states, allowed them to control redistricting and they redrew House districts to their advantage in many states.

In the Senate, where candidates run statewide (which eliminates the possibility of gerrymandering), Democrats picked up seats and added to their majority. If the will of the voters had been accurately reflected, the Democrats would again be in charge of both houses of Congress. Rigging the system made a difference for Republicans. It was about the only thing that kept the GOP from total disaster.

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22 comments on this item

FOX News still remains the #1 choice for news. Fair and balanced. The numbers speak for themselves.

One question has been answered ... and not the one that orrcountry was thinking.

MH, great piece.

I'm still can't quite believe that the Romney campaign, top Republican voices and donors were "blind-sided". Average Fox fans, sure, but with all the money in the Republican coffers, one would think they would have hired people who actually knew how to crunch the numbers and listened to them. Perhaps they did but chose to ignore reality which would not be surprising.

One other huge issue that really hurt Republicans and will continue to be a huge problem for the GOP unless they come to their senses is their zealous, fanatical efforts to deny women health care. One outrageous example was the Blunt amendment which proposed employers be allowed to deny their employees' contraceptive coverage or ANY OTHER medical prescription or procedure they found "morally" objectionable even though most employees do pay for their health insurance plans offered in their jobs in footing a percentage of the cost of the insurance, co-pays, etc. Imagine if employer objected to blood transfusions or vasectomies.

It's totally offensive that old, white men who don't have a clue about lady parts and all seem to have been educated at the Todd Akin school of medicine think they have a right to intrude into women's personal lives and health decisions and foist their personal prejudices and ignorances upon women and the and men who care about them through draconian laws. Oh yes, women noticed and they won't forget.

Free birth control for all women, regardless if income with no Co-pay is asinine! Unlike most prescription drugs, birth control is a voluntary thing. Pandering is how Obama won. I think a tax return should be required of voters. No taxes need to be due, but filing at least proves you are slightly engaged in the world. The end of the world as we knew it is when there are more takers than workers! No one owes anybody a thing. Something far too many of us have forgotten,or were never taught. Start teaching people how to fish and quit enabling able-bodied people already!

hard rock,

Contraceptives are used for more than birth control. It is also used for a host of health reasons reducing medical care costs.

Birth control saves lives. It also saves us money, a lot of money. Even an uneventful pregnancy costs more. Every dollar our society spends on preventing unintended pregnancies produces a savings of between $2 and $6. The savings come from averting health care, child care and other costs of unplanned pregnancies. That's one of the safest and most profitable investments anywhere, a rate of return of 100% to 500%. The fewer the unintended pregnancies, the fewer the abortions.

When Texas cut $73 million for state family planning services, the increase in unplanned pregnancies ended up costing $230 million in additional Medicaid burdens. The other results were more unintended pregnancies and more abortions.

Brookings projects spending just $235 million to expand access to Medicaid family planning services would save $1.32 billion.

I assume you must know or have at least guessed that contraceptives used to prevent pregnancy or to treat other health issues has got to be cheaper than the cost of pregnancies or untreated health issues that become serious or dangerous to a woman's life. Plus we all end up bearing those extra costs. Saving all of us a whole lot of money should please a fiscal conservative and preventing unmarried mothers and abortions should please a religious/moral conservative. Look like a win-win to me.

If you still think it's "asinine", I'd sure like to know why.

With all due respect, Mr. Bonfire, please don't forget that it is the infamous Hard Rock Miner you are talking to here.

Loves to babble his political propaganda ... not realizing we have heard it all before ... at least if we watch any Fox News. Tis the Tea Party book of common prayer from which he quotes.

And here you just offer facts and logical, rational truths. Shame ... he will not understand.

jt,

Of course, we have heard all that babble before without ever watching Fox (CNN and much of the "liberal" media isn't much better) and at the same time we are exposed to reality based information.Then we read, source and gasp, fact check what we hear. oth, hard rock and his compatriots only hear factoids and accept them as real. I suppose it would be disloyal to doubt or maybe even unamerican!

Saving a boat load of money and reducing the number of unmarried mothers and children needing assistance and abortions should be very strong reasons for conservatives reverse their birth control objections but I gotta a hunch they won't. I want to hear what their other objections are if they can articulate them.

You wish for more than they can ... or will deliver

Bonfire and JT, there is no objection to contraception from most R's but it should be personal choice at personal cost. The employer shouldn't be forced to subsidize contraception.

Our ever growing federal debt to fund our ever expanding entitlement programs will bring ruin. Are you ready for an ever growing personal tax burden? Currently, we are borrowing $.40 of each $1 we spend. Are you afraid for the future? I am.

And no mention of wars and defense spending. Oh, I forgot ... much is not even budgeted ... and certainly do not have their own independent sources of funding as do the infamous entitlements.

I think you might be wise to take a closer look at what is triggering the debt ... a MUCH closer look (and please, don't use the Tea Party book of common prayer). Then suggest dealing with those expenditures.

Meanwhile, I must go out to shop to help fund the pay, bonuses and retirements of those who truly are receiving the "entitlements"

jt:The world has become a dangerous place. Those that serve in our military, yes funded by defense spending, do so with honor and defend your right to shoot your mouth off without retribution by the government. I'm sure you would go through withdrawal if you couldn't continue to taunt and trash posters on this thread. Your rights are protected by those serving in our military, at our expense. Thank God you are free.

rick,

What employer in their right mind would even want to deny contraceptive coverage to his/her female employees? We once owned a business and we can't imagine telling a female employee we wouldn't allow her insurance that she pays a significant portion of, to cover contraceptives. That's insane. What female would want to work for people who intrude into female employees' personal business? And you can bet on the news traveling fast in small communities.

Employers should be happy to have contraceptives covered. An employee who is pregnant, happily planned or not, does need some time off work, before and after a birth.

rick, you completely ignored the stats on saving money in my previous comment. You don't believe the data? Or do you have a "moral" objection that trumps saving tax dollars?

I have a hunch when you say you're afraid of expanding entitlements growing our personal tax burden, ruin, you are not talking about the sweet deals the super wealthy are getting on their taxes, tax shelters overseas, lower than ordinary income tax rates on capital gains, interest and dividends which used to be called unearned income and big tax breaks and subsidies for corporations.

Low capital gains rates are allowing the wealthy to pay lower and lower tax rates even as their incomes have gone through the roof. Half of capital gains income goes to just the richest 0.1%. Looks like a fat entitlement expansion to me. Capital gains accounts for 2.2% of earners under $200,000. The median income in St. Louis County is $42,000 to $52,000, most earned through actually working a job or two or three.

You can't talk about entitlements and totally ignore what the much lower tax rates for the ultra wealthy are doing to the personal tax burden on the rest of us.

Not worth a rebuttal, Mr Orrcountry. And you are smarter than that ... I hope.

Mr jtormoen, I asked you before, how do you budget a war, I got no answer than so I'm asking again. You probably don't want to remember but congress has passed bills to fund the war. Budget, I didn't think you would have the guts to mention budget, since your party hasn't passed one in over 3 years.I think orrcountry is right about the military and it;s obvious that you never served. Your dislike shows you don't understand what they do. It's like your comments about the teaparty, you don't know what they want, you only know what your handlers tell you.

Ah, yes ... the infamous jayberg is back ... and with what? A siding with the mr. orrcountry. Now, that is a pairing to not draw for.

But I fear that given my past experience with the lack of awareness and intelligence of the above, it is not worth throwing truth out.

But I will throw just this out ... am I to presume then, that you fully support the giving up of over 4000 lives in Iraq for ??? and about 2000 in Afghanistan.

Help me understand what the trillions of dollars have done to benefit our country. Or do you just enjoy seeing the planes land in Dover?

And ... no it hasn't (you figure out the link)

Now, back to the topics of the original post ... albeit likely that some will not go there.

You should ask your master, Obama, he is responsible for twice the number of deaths in Afghanistan as Bush.

I better understand you now, your hero was Chamberlain. Wave a piece of paper and say peace in our time. Great.

Once again you failed to say how you budget a war. Or is that just one of your talking points and you really don't know what it means.

To your first "question" (it isn't but I'll pretend). Since I never indicated that either recent president was immune to criticism, they both must take blame. I was very disappointed, and still am, that in his inauguration speed O did not indicate a quick departure from both venues. At the same time, I can understand the difficulty of a quick exit, but still ... too much, too long ... and for what.

To "Chamberlain" ... not worth taking any time here.

To budgeting for wars, seems in the years prior to 2000 there was not much difficulty. May not be easy to forecast the unknown, but given the need for increased spending, revenues were boosted to compensate ... as was debt. So, yes, there were budgets. Now, given the tax cuts, we are left with war spending for nearly a dozen years (plus some other things) yet reduced revenues. Absolutely no way to set up a successful enterprise ... and now we are stuck with the cuts knowing that dramatic re-introduction could have some impact on the economy. Damned if we do and damned if we don't.

So trust you are happy now. If you need help understanding anything that I wrote, try orrcountry ... he will offer the Fox News version that will be more acceptable to you both I would guess.

Forgot to add, since you keep accusing me of not throwing facts out ... and this one will likely stun you, given your apparent sources of information/knowledge (or lack thereof) ... but the earth is basically round. A sphere! Imagine that!

I know you have this thing for it being flat ... but sorry.

jt: Two points. You are finally right...the earth is a sphere. Brilliant deduction. However, if Jay Berg made the observation first, it would seem your nature to argue...well it's not exactly round in circumference, it is two centimeters out of round.

2nd point. More people watch and trust FOX News than your source of choice...MTV.

Oh my ... another flat earther heard from ... whatever he says. But I will always accept that he has a sense of humor ... and his sidekick ... well, no.

Is MTV something like Minnesota Tumbleweed Visionaries ... or what?

Bonfire, you could just confiscate the entire worth of the top 1% and all of the biggest corporations and run the government for less than one year. Please understand that we either cut benefits for folks now or soon or we must raise taxes on everyone. The President and the D's have prolonged the economic troubles. There has been no certainty about tax rates. There has been no budget for over 3 years. No forward thinking yields confusion and fear in the marketplace.

These are tough times and there seems to be no courage in Washington, none from either party in my opinion.

rick, You do realize that Republicans have absolutely refused to roll back tax cuts to the ultra wealthy, don't you? They've hardly been secretive about that. They have also refused to put forward a new budget plan of their own.

Obama has a debt-reduction plan and there is nothing in that that wasn't already included in Obama's previous budgets and wasn't part of his 2012 platform or both. His proposed tax increases would raise $1.6 trillion over ten years. As part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, Obama agreed to spending reductions of $1.5 trillion over ten years. Yet, Republicans pretend Obama is a big spender even though Boehner bragged that the deal was "all spending cuts" at the time. Obama's latest offer proposes billions more in spending cuts.

Republicans are vague about the specifics of cuts they would make. McConnell finally hinted at a few to the WSJ, raising the Medicare age, higher premiums on more affluent Medicare recipients and changing the price indexing of Social Security. Raising the Medicare age would raise only $113 billion, higher premiums about $20 billion and SS price indexing change $186 billion. Quite a difference from Obama debt reduction plan. A little more than $300 billion in Republican "savings" doesn't do much for the deficit and would directly reduce benefits and greatly increase out of pocket spending to seniors.

Rep. Tom Cole doesn't think the Republicans need to put a formal debt reduction proposal out there. Senator Bob Corker said Obama's Medicare and other program cuts aren't "serious" enough. Corker thinks there should be more cuts, very serious, painful cuts. They don't want to get specific because they know Americans, no matter what party they belong to, won't approve of big hits to their Medicare and other programs to keep taxes from rising on the 1 to 2% wealthiest. 67% of Republicans don't want the Medicare age raised.

You believe benefits must be cut now or taxes will be raised on everyone. Medicare and Social Security are earned benefits, btw. Republican leaders believe the rest of us must sacrifice so the 1 to 2% can keep their tax breaks plus they'd like to give them even more tax cuts.

Obama debt-reduction plan would reduce the deficit many times more than the Republican's proposals. David Stockman, Reagan budget director, admitted that Republican's professed concern about deficits and debt impact on our children and grandchildren was just a ruse to allow Republicans to avoid responsibility for the adverse consequences of lowering taxes on the rich. Former Reagan treasury official, Bruce Bartlett has explained in detail that the rightwing push against deficits over the past 30 years was not a sincere commitment to fiscal prudence. Instead, the goal was to reduce taxes on the rich, which would starve government of funds resulting in reducing spending for those deemed underserving by Republicans including poor children, struggling elderly and others. Remember VP Dick Cheney said, "deficits don't matter". Stockman and Bartlett are conservatives, supply side experts who were right inside the Republican circle and the WH. I believe they know what they are talking about.

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