Election 2012: Obama wins a second term

Nov 07, 2012

Bob Kaiser:

So, the Washington Post-ABC Poll was right--as were so many other polls--and the Romney surge of enthusiasm proved to be a wish, not a reality. This was an important election, and also an important lesson: the new technologies of politics really work. It was also an historic event, I think: the re-election of the first black president is almost as important a milestone as the election of the first black president four years ago. Send us your comments and questions for a live online discussion Wednesday at noon, East Coast time.

What is your strongest impression from this election? What really matters?

Welcome to our post-election chat. This is an obvious question to begin our discussion. Please send in your own comments ane observations--I will post as many of them as I can over the next hour or so.


I have a somewhat unconventional response to this question, perhaps relecting my status as a senior citizen.  I suspect that a generation or two from now, the 2012 election will be remembered as another milestone on the long road toward the resolution of what Gunnar Myrdal, the great Swedish intellectual, called the American Dilemma--our racial division. No aspect of American society has been more important over the last 225 years, in my opinion. In 2008 we elected the first black president, an amazing turn of events to someone like me born in 1943. Now that black president has been re-elected, a sign that his occupancy of the White House was accepted as normal, and, for more than half the country, desirable too.  In 1943, a man who looked like Barack Obama could not eat lunch in the cafeteria of a Washington department store a few blocks from the hospital where I was born. Eighty years earlier such a man was owned as private property by "gentlemen" farmers across the river in Virginia. We have indeed come a long, long way.

How come the media let the Republicans spin them into thinking Romney was running so close to Obama???? He barely passed 200 electoral votes!

There's a simple answer to this one : because the media wanted to believe it.  I don't think my colleagues fully understand their own susceptability to the temptation to turn campaigns into close horse-races, but we do it again and again.  In fact this one barely changed all year. Personally I don't buy the story of the "collapse" of Obama after the first debate. Look at the Post-ABC poll; it was amazingly steady throughout. 

Are we going to see a Biden/Clinton face off in the primaries in four years?

I am not going to answer this or any similar question! Enough, already. Four years is an eternity. I can't predict events day after tomorrow--and neither can you!

How come American voter turnout remains so low compared to other countries, like those in Europe?

This is an important, fundamental question, and it allows me to climb back up on a favorite hobby horse of mine. People like me--and like you, I suspect--are NOT typical of this country.  America's is an apolitical, and often anti-political culture. Most Americans do not pay close attention to politics, or try to understand economics and social policy and foreign policy and all the rest of it. Every four years a majority of Americans tunes in to the presidential campaign, and we choose a president. Then we go back to indifference. It is the American way. We can argue endlessly whether this is good, bad, whatever, but it is a fact. It is an important part of who we are.

The only two presidents in the last 60 years to win over 50 percent of the vote in two elections are Obama and Reagan. Does this mean we have to consider the Obama campaign mechanism among the best of all time?

Good question. And this is especially rare for a Democrat. Bill Clinton didn't do it either time he won. "Best of all time" is a slippery category, but there is no doubt that the Obama campaign was brilliantly conceived and executed. It ran circles around the Romney operation, obviously.

What about all the pundits who got it wrong, especially the conservative ones--how could so many smart people have been so wrong?

I love this question too. Look at the list of these people: Karl Rove, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, on and on. I am baffled by them. They seem to be the political equivalent of global warming deniers. The facts were never hidden. Wonky experts who studied the vast number of available polls--our Ezra Klein, the NY Times's Nate Silver, and many others--saw that Obama had control of the electoral map well before yesterday, and spelled it out in detail. So where did these conservatives get the "information" that fed their predictions of a Romney win? From a wishing well?

These are all grownups who can answer this question themselves, but it seems to me they owe their readers, viewers and listeners an explanation. Was the wish father (or mother) to the thought? Or did they see themselves as team players who had an obligation to buy into the Romney campaign spin? Whatever the cause, the result is this morning clear to all: total embarassment.

Do you think there is any chance President Obama will be any more successful in advancing his agenda in a second term than he was over the last two years?

First, let's remember what Obama did in the first term: he passed the most substantial new element in the American safety net in generations, Obamacare. He helped pass a masive re-regulation of the financial sector, the Dodd-Frank bill. He passed the biggest stimulus package in our history, which I believe--Ezra Klein convinced me of this--prevented the worst economc depression in four generations.  He did these things in the first two years, of course, when Democrats controlled Congress, but he did them.  They were not chopped liver, whether or not you liked them.

Now what? Well, it will be fun, and fascinating, to see. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, issued a pretty nasty comment last night saying this election provided no mandate for Obama, and it was now up to him to propose ideas that the Republican House will approve. Really?  In fact the Republicans now face a big identity crisis.  McConnell is dreaming if he thinks he can just restore the status quo ante--the conditions of 2011-12. He himself said the primary goal of his Republican Senators was to defeat Obama.  They failed. Now they have to figure out what to do.

    John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, has been more conciliatory. He seems to realize he has a different kind of problem now, even if he retained his majority in the House.

We're on new ground now. Politics will change.

With all the attention paid to political prognosticators like Nate Silver beforehand, and in light of his success in calling all 50 states, what does this mean for the future of political media coverage? Can we expect more polling and horse races? More data and less reporting on issues?

How much "reporting on issues" did you notice this year? The American media have been hooked on the horse race for half a century -- since Theodore White published The Making of the President 1960.  Nate Silver, Ezra and their ilk proved, again, that the modern techniques of polling really work, even when polling is getting harder and harder. Fewer than ten percent of the people called by pollsters are willing to speak to them. Perhaps 30 percent of Americans now rely on cell phones, and don't have a landline, making it much harder for pollsters to find them.  Nevertheless, as you point out, Nate Silver predicted the outcome with great precision; The Post-ABC poll was exactly right on the eve of the election. 

Yes, we can expect even more polling in the future. 

What does this election say about the future prospects for the Republican Party?

Another good question. The demographic which gave the most support to the Republicans yesterday was elderly white people--not exactly the men and women of tomorrow. The age-group that gave Obama the most support was the young. White people supported Romney more than Obama; the country is becoming steaily less white.  African-Americans, Latinos and Asian Amereicans overwhelmingly supported Obama. Latinos and Asian Americans are the fastest-growing categories of our population.

Once again, the United Statdes of America is reinventing itself. The people on the cutting edge of this reinvention are not voting Republican. This portends a crisis for the GOP.

What's happening there? Why have so many not called the race yet with 100% precincts reporting?

Miami-Dade and Panellas (spelling?) County haven't finished counting votes yet. Both say they will do so today. Until they do, the state cannot consider their results complete. But it looks to me as though Obama will win Florida.

Thanks for taking questions today, Mr. Kaiser. There are many articles today about what the Republicans must do to reform and bring in the "new American voters." As someone who once considered himself a Republican, my response is: that time has passed. Our history has shown an inability to sustain a multi-party system, but from time to time a third party has taken root just as an old one withers. (Think of the Republicans /Whigs). I really believe the GOP is near the point of collapse, and that moderate conservatives are more likely to start fresh with a new party rather than try to rebrand and resell the existing "label" that has been tainted. Am I dillusional?

This is a wonderful follow-up to the previous question. Thank you for posting. I so believe, as I've written here previously, that the most important change in American politics in my lifetime has been the transformation of the Republican Party into a radical, anti-government faction. Not every Republican can be so described, of course, but those are the Republicans who pushed Romney disastrously to the right this year, and who dominate the congressional GOP. People forget how different it was a short time ago.  In the Nixon years, many of the most effective, influential liberals in Congress were Republicans--Jacob Javits, Clifford Case, Chuck Percy, on and on. Like you, they would all be long gone from today's GOP.

I think of the Republicans as akin to the British Tories, who spent many years in the electoral wilderness after the fall of Margaret Thatcher, went through several leaders who got clobbered by Tony Blair in elections, and finally settled on Cameron, the current prime minister, who was a moderate pragmatist. Yet they are still divided because their conservative backbenchers are still influential in the party, and they still can't win a majority in the British parliament--they rule now in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  I can't predict the Republican future, but I expect it to be tumultuous.

If only it was actually 4 years - 2 years is more like it. With so many people making a living talking and writing about politics, we'll be starting the next election cycle in 2 years, max.

You are right, of course. But I'm as bad at predicting what will happen in two years as in four...

people like Peggy Noonan think that their "instincts" are more reliable than hard, cold analysis of numbers? Even the poll analysts understood that there might be something wrong with the polls that they didn't know about and couldn't adjust for. The instinct people didn't have anything to go on. Is it just because without the confidence there is no reason for anyone to pay them?

Ahh, you think people only pay for what is accurate or well-grounded in fact? 

Do the Republicans have any chance of returning to the White House in the next cycle? Chris Cillizza noted on Twitter today that Obama won the Hispanic vote 79% - 21%. Considering the explosive growth of the Latino population in this country, how can they overcome that?

Again, you'll get no predictions here. But I will note this intriguing prospect: The American economy is just beginning what could well become a vigorous, prolonged recovery. Many economists expect that, assuming we get past the "fiscal cliff" (which is neither fiscal, nor a cliff) in the next few months. Nothing suits the incumbent party better than a boom, of course.

While Obama, currently, holds slightly more than 50% of the popular vote, the final vote tallies on the whole are pretty close, which should give Republicans a level of comfort that, nationally, they are not destined to fail. I would argue that the *loss* of Senate seats should be a bigger concern and speaks more to the chasm they face with the makeup of the electorate.

Thanks. But I disagree. Obama is going to win more than 50% of the popular vote, which, as noted earlier, is very rare for a Democrat. And Romney got the most votes from the segments of the population that are shrinking as a percentage of the total.  But I agree about the Senate. The gerrymandered House now does not remotely reflect the entire country; ironically, the Senate reflects it better. State boundaries cannot be redrawn to help politicians get re-elected. 

My biggest takeaway from this election was how broken our voting models are. Issues with the number of terminals at polling places, with errors on voter rolls, power failures, etc. seem to continue with every election. Do you see anything changing in the future to make the process of voting more reliable, accessible and convenient? Early voting is a good start, but three hour lines to vote early really isn't acceptable in the 21st century.

Thanks for this. I heartily agree.  We must look like a banana republic to outsiders. I noticed Obama adlibbing a ine in his speech early this morning  saying "we have to fix that," or words to that effect.  I agree with him, as I do with you.

Fascinating races with some good results for helping Obama get his agenda moving. Who would have thought the Republicans would lose Senate seats in MO and IN? Jon Tester held on in MT and North Dakota may send a feisty Democratic woman (Heidi Heitkamp) to the Senate. No wonder Mitch McConnell is so cranky this morning.

Thanks for posting.  I wonder if McConnell can retain the support and confidence of his colleagues after this dismal showing. His team got whacked.

Do you think people who are frustrated with the election of Obama would do anything that disturbs the peace and sort of leads to what Donald Trump has called for a revolution ?

How about a revolution to overthrow everyone in America who pays any attention whatsoever to Donald Trump, our most ludicrous public figure? 

It seems to me that many Republicans will argue that they lost because they nominated a candidate who was too conservative. They will cite their victory in the House as an example of an America that supports a conservative agenda. However, I really think what the Republican party needs is more moderation and the fact that people like Olympia Snowe and Dick Lugar are being run out of town will haunt the party and only serve to further their decline.

Thanks for this post.

I'd be fascinated to be a fly on the wall for the conversations Karl Rove is having with some of his Crossroads PAC big donors, like Sheldon Adelson, right about now. Do you think that these billionaires might be a little less enthusiastic about getting out their checkbooks, in future elections, now that it's been proven that no, you can't actually buy the presidency quite so easily?

Me too! How is Mr. Adelson feeling today, I wonder. As soneone who has been following money in politics for years, and published a book about the subject in 2009, I was intrigued, as you were, by the failure of the Citizens United money to have an obvious impact this year. Which doesn't mean it was insignificant, by the way. Our politics have been transformed in this cycle; the amount of money now being raised and spent is dizzying. And the possibilities for corruption now are mind-bending. But I agree with you; at least some of those who wrote fat checks this time must be wondering today why they did it. And a lot of men and women who were planning on becoming ambassadors need a Plan B today.

What made me feel good at the end of the evening was that despite the many millions of dollars that Republican-related PACs and outside interest groups threw at us in swing states (I'm in Iowa), most of those states took their own counsel and decided to give the President another four years to right the economy.

Thanks for this.

Based on the exit polls or pre-polls, was there a stance that Romney took that would have been a game changer if he took the opposite stance? Raising taxes? Women's health? Military spending?

You are assuming that specific issues move large numbes of voters. I don't think so. Voters draw conclusions about what sort of people the candidates are. They never warmed to Mitt Romney. 

It will be interesting to see greater detail on who voted for whom. Last night I was seeing broad breakdowns in terms of demographics (race/age/gender). As you drill-down into the poll numbers and look to see what policies people within these groups people felt were important, the story might look quite different. For example, if Romney wants to overhaul Medicare (type of entitlement that I doubt seniors want to see changed radically), why did increasingly older voters tap Romney?

You can find details of the exit polls on the Post website which will give you a lot of answers. As for your Medicare question, I'd say one answer is that a lot of seniors don't really understand how Medicare works, or what Romney and Ryan were talking about.

You wrote: "The American media have been hooked on the horse race for half a century..." I agree. And I think the media also contributes to the partisan rancor and gridlock in Washington. Every piece of legislation is reported about through a political lens, instead of a policy lens (this is why I appreciate people like Ezra Klein). So when people ask what the responsibilities are of the parties coming out of this election to get things done, I'd like to ask you -- what do you think the media, especially outlets like cable news, can do better to help America focus on policy vs. politics?

I can't believe we've all spent another hour on a chat--another lively one. This will be the last question today. Sorry to disappoint others who posted.

You know, telling people to be "more responsible" is one of the follies of life--or so I have concluded after seven decades of hanging around. Len Downie, the former editor of The Post, and I wrote a book ten years ago called THE NEWS ABOUT THE NEWS, American Journalism in Peril. Little did we realize how great the peril was, or how far journalism could still fall. The cable networks that have fanned the partisan warfare have found one of the very few good "business models" in American journalism. Fox and MSNBC are money-makers when the New York Times and Washington Post are both struggling--and losing money.  There are lots of answers to your question, but I'm not going to try to list them, because whatever the cable news networks COULD do better, they are not going to do those things. They take the simplest, cheapest route to a healthy bottom line, which in our day means fanning partisan emotions.  This is a big subject, one for another chat on another day, but I urge you to be realistic about what has happened to our news media.  I try to be; it leaves me feeling blue.

On that happy note, thanks for making the election season more interesting for me, and for our readers. 

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Robert G. Kaiser
Robert G. Kaiser is Associate Editor of The Washington Post.
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