Kimberley A. Strassel @ The WSJ:
To win the next presidential race, the GOP will have to understand what went wrong in 2012. To do that, they’ve got to come to grips with what did, and did not, happen with turnout.
Even as Republicans have engaged in some agonizing over their candidate and agenda, many have sought comfort in the notion that a big part of the loss came down to simple mechanics. President Obama had a stunning Election Day operation, which turned out his base. Mitt Romney’s shop, by contrast, failed to get people to the polls. That explanation is soothing because it suggests that, in the future, all the GOP needs is a slicker piece of get-out-the-vote software.
It’s also broadly wrong.
The turnout myth comes from a statistic that has been endlessly repeated: Mitt Romney got fewer votes than John McCain in 2008. This isn’t quite true (Mr. Romney this week eked past the McCain totals), and in any event it is somewhat irrelevant. The Romney vote count reflects a nationwide voter turnout that was down nearly five percentage points from 2008. What matters is how the GOP did in the battleground states.
And there? Mr. Romney beat Mr. McCain’s numbers in every single battleground, save Ohio. In some cases, his improvement was significant. In Virginia, 65,000 more votes than in 2008. In Florida, 117,000 more votes. In Colorado, 52,000. In Wisconsin, 146,000. Moreover, in key states like Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia, Mr. Romney turned out even more voters than George W. Bush did in his successful re-election in 2004.
By contrast, Mr. Obama’s turnout was down from 2008 in nearly every battleground. He lost 54,000 votes in Virginia, 46,000 votes in Florida, 50,000 votes in Colorado, 63,000 votes in Wisconsin. Ditto Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio. The only state where Mr. Obama increased his votes (by 36,000) was North Carolina, and he was still beaten by a Romney campaign that raised its own turnout by a whopping 147,000.
The temptation here is to conclude that Mr. Romney did better than Mr. McCain, just not well enough, while Mr. Obama did worse, just not badly enough. Yes, there is no question the GOP turnout effort could have been improved. Project ORCA, developed and run by the Romney campaign to refine its turnout efforts, was a dismal failure. And the GOP lagged behind the Obama campaign’s sophisticated use of technology, in particular social media.
Could better use of these tools have added enough to the Romney totals to eke out victories in key states? Maybe. In the end, it was 334,000 votes—in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire—that separated Mr. Romney from the presidency. Then again, had Mr. Romney succeeded in grinding out a narrow victory, it might also have masked the party’s bigger problems.
Because what ought to scare the GOP is this: Even with higher GOP turnout in key states, even with Mr. Obama shedding voters, Democrats still won. Mr. Obama accomplished this by tapping new minority voters in numbers that beat even Mr. Romney’s better turnout.
In Florida, 238,000 more Hispanics voted than in 2008, and Mr. Obama got 60% of Hispanic voters. His total margin of victory in Florida was 78,000 votes, so that demographic alone won it for him. Or consider Ohio, where Mr. Romney won independents by 10 points. The lead mattered little, though, given that black turnout increased by 178,000 votes, and the president won 96% of the black vote. Mr. Obama’s margin of victory there was 103,000.
This is the demographic argument that is getting so much attention, and properly so. The Republican Party can hope that a future Democratic candidate won’t equal Mr. Obama’s magnetism for minority voters. But the GOP would do far better by fighting aggressively for a piece of the minority electorate.
And that, for the record, was the GOP’s real 2012 turnout disaster. Elections are about the candidate and the message, yes, but also about the ground game. Republicans right now are fretting about Mr. Romney’s failures and the party’s immigration platform—that’s fair enough. But equally important has been the party’s mind-boggling failure to institute a competitive Hispanic ground game. The GOP doesn’t campaign in those communities, doesn’t register voters there, doesn’t knock on doors. So while pre-election polling showed that Hispanics were worried about Obama policies, in the end the only campaign that these voters heard from—by email, at their door, on the phone—was the president’s.