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Elections, Politics

Exit polls: Romney did well, Obama did better

Posted: November 8, 2012 at 3:58 am   /   by

The parsing of exit poll data has begun, and will continue for some time. It’s looking like we may have some answers, but there are still questions.

One question that is on many people’s minds now: Why did Mitt Romney get fewer voters than John McCain (57.4 million to 59.9 million)? What possible excuse could Republicans have for staying home?  John Podhoretz points out, though, that that may not actually be the case, because votes are still being counted, and will be for weeks. So we won’t know for sure for some time. One presumes that Romney will end up exceeding McCain’s totals. If he does not, there will have to be some serious questions as to why.

Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit has parsed through some of the data and has some numbers on Romney’s performance with various demographics. He has some especially interesting numbers on various religious cohorts:

One question I’m seeing in the comments is, “Did evangelicals turn out for Romney”? Yep, looks that way. Turnout among Protestants generally dropped slightly from 2008 (54% to 53%) but Romney’s share of the vote increased from 54% to 57%. Among white evangelicals specifically, turnout was steady at 26% of the electorate from four years ago and Romney took 78% of the vote compared to just 74% for McCain. If you’d rather slice the data by how often people go to church, the number who attend at least weekly rose from 39% in 2008 to 42% this time. McCain won 55% of that group. Romney won 59%. He improved on McCain’s numbers among Jewish voters too, from 21% of the vote in 2008 to 30% this time (or maybe more), the highest take for a Republican since 1988. If there’s any religious group that underperformed for him, it’s Catholics. He did improve on McCain’s numbers — from 45% to 48% — but O still won a majority despite the abortion-rights jamboree at the convention and the contraception mandate. Catholic turnout was down two points this time, however.

Obviously, we have to recognize that exit poll data is always going to be imperfect, but these are the best data we have to figure out what happened in the election. And according to these data, Romney improved in many areas over McCain’s performance.

One unexpected result that may have made the difference, however. Apparently, young voters turned out in greater numbers this time than last time, (from 18% up to 19%). Romney took the majority of seniors and middle-agers, but the under-44 crowd went for Obama, and the under 30 crowd heavily so. And, that may have been the difference. AP links to two Tweets from @KLSoltis that tell a grim tale.

First, grim for Romney . . .

Just did some crunching. Romney got 1.8 million more votes than Obama among voters 30+. He lost under-30s by 5.1 million. Game over.

Second, and possibly grim for all of us:

In 2000, in VA, Bush won young voters by 11. In ’04, he lost them by 8. In 2008, Obama won them by 21. Yesterday, he won them by 25.

That is a shocking decline. Is it just a moment in time—in other words, are these younger voters obsessed with Obama specifically, or have they become a “permanent” (nothing is truly permanent in politics) Democrat cohort? We won’t know for sure until the next presidential election (when there will not be an Obama on the ticket), but this is an issue that the right needs to look at now. Yes, conservatives are often made rather than born—though experience, wisdom, maturity, and paycheck shock—but the GOP and the right have to figure out how to reach voters a lot younger, no matter what their reason is for supporting Obama in such large numbers.

Looking at the exit poll data, now and on election night, one thing that is striking is the identity politics at work . . .

If you were an alien and you landed on Earth, and people started explaining political differences to you, the first thing they might tell you is this:

On one side, there are people who believe that the government should play a large role in people’s lives. When faced with a social question, they ask, “What can government do about this?”

On the other side, there are people who believe that government should play a much more limited role, and that people—individuals, families, communities, and private entities—should take the lead role whenever possible. Government should only do those things that are needed for the general wellbeing of society, and then, only those things that people cannot or will not do privately, and always at the most local level that is possible.

If you were that alien, receiving that explanation, you might think that each cohort—whites, blacks, men, women, marrieds, singles, religious, nonreligious, etc.—would divide up fairly evenly on those questions. After all, choosing one of those philosophies is mostly an intellectual position (and possibly psychological/personality one); thus, one might expect more even distribution. Instead, we find blacks, singles, women, and the non-religious going somewhere from handily to overwhelmingly for the left, and whites, marrieds, men, and the religious going on a similar range of intensities for the right. True, some of the specific issue platforms are designed to attract certain cohorts, but still, the margins are striking.

In Obama’s case, though, the margins of intensity seem to have been a bit higher. In other words, Romney wins seniors, but Obama wins young people by more. Romney wins married people, but Obama wins unmarried people by more. And so forth. That difference in intensity may have proven the margin in this election. That makes sense, in an obvious way, given that the left focuses its energies on identity politics to a far greater degree than the right.

As we rend our hair or sit in shocked silence post-election, conservatives, libertarians, Republicans, and everyone who leans that way and opposed Obama need to pause and not jump to rash conclusions or make assumptions about what is or is not “permanent.” Yes, we face some serious demographic and identity-politics challenges that we must address. But it is also possible that those challenges may not be as great as they feel now.

Obama was a phenomenon. Obama lost (or if you prefer, Romney won) independents by five points. The swing vote figured out that Obama hasn’t done well. But the people on the left’s base who voted for Obama the first time had a quasi-religious devotion to him then, and it appears that they maintained that devotion. On some level, Romney was right to go after independents, but it appears that Obama’s strategy of making this a base election won the day. That does not mean that the next candidate for president from the Democrats will inspire the same levels of devotion. Maybe (s)he will, maybe not.

That doesn’t mean we wait around and hope for the best. People on the right have to find better ways to reach out, to convey our ideas, and to work together. We have to have some long, hard discussions, but we must not give in to either complacency, internecine squabbling, or despairing apathy. There is work to be done. For the right, the pathways to victory lies in setting about its task with clear heads and happy hearts. The alternatives are far less attractive.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook