Sunday, November 11, 2012

Republicans could have had the votes to win this year

It seems as if many Republicans just stayed home again this year, as they did in 2008. Here are the nationwide vote totals from the last three presidential elections:


2012 Obama 61,814,180 Romney 58,586,318
2008 Obama 66,882,230 McCain 58,343,671
2004 Kerry 59,028,109 Bush 62,028,285

Note that Romney and McCain received almost exactly the same vote totals in 2012 and 2008. Obama received approximately five million votes fewer this year than he did in 2008. And this year, Obama received fewer votes than George W. Bush did in 2004.

[In 2008, Nader pulled about 740,000 votes, almost the same as the combined total of the libertarian and constitutional party candidates, a wash. Vote total sources: 2004, 2008, 2012. Admittedly this chart doesn’t take into account new young voters, old voters who die, and people who relocate, but it does put the Republican party into recent historical context.]

So if Republicans had been able to replicate their effort in 2004, they could possibly have defeated Obama this year.

There are two types of presidential elections. Almost always we see an “appeal-to-the-center” or median voter theory election. This model holds that the outcome of the decision is the outcome most preferred by the median voter [Holcombe, Randall G. (2006), Public Sector Economics, Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall].

This type of effort might be characterized by something Nixon said in the 1960's [and this is an approximate quote]: “you have to run as hard as you can to the right to win the Republican nomination, then as hard as you can to the center to win the general election”.

Romney followed this pattern, and attempted to “capture the center” in the general election. And toward the end of the election season this year, Obama was appealing to his base, which from our perspective appeared to be out of a fear that Romney had actually captured the center.

However, by contrast, as noted here, Bush’s strategy in 2004 “disregarded the median voter”, and “ran on Bush’s conservative record in office instead”. This effort to “expand the base” enabled Bush to win a significant victory.

If the Republicans had been able to run the kind of campaign in 2012 that Bush did in 2004, it seems entirely likely that they could have brought out that element of the electorate that Bush captured, but which stayed home [again] this year.

Meanwhile, Romney received approximately same vote total as McCain did in 2008, and achieved very nearly the exact same Electoral College map.

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