What Happened? One Week Later, Nobody Knows

A week ago today, I predicted the Electoral College would turn out to be 341 Romney, 197 Obama.

You may have noticed that it didn’t quite work out that way.

I imagine, like me, you’ve been wondering: “What the hell happened?”

That Tatler post, and the reasoning behind it from my other post, “Keep Calm and Finish Him,” was based primarily on two observations from the polls: Rasmussen’s Republican Party self-identification was the highest in eight0 years at least — since 2004 in fact, when Republican turnout ended Kerry’s presidential hopes; and Republican enthusiasm was also higher than it had been in years, and in fact much higher than in 2008, while Democrat enthusiasm was lower. Based on these facts, and a few other hints, I concluded that the states not counted as toss-ups would go the way the polls indicated, and the states that were toss-ups would largely go to Romney.

Of course, what happened was exactly the opposite: Obama took all the toss-up states.

Why? There have been a lot of options considered. Along with a lot of other people, I wondered if the Mormonism issue had depressed Republican turnout in a post called “Magic underwear.” Some people suggested explicitly that it might have been evangelical turnout, but according to Andrew McCarthy, the exit polls didn’t actually reflect that — although the reasoning for using exit polls to describe the population that didn’t vote seems a little labored. But to be fair to that hypothesis, some commenters said explicitly that they hadn’t voted for Romney for just that reason — Mormonism was “a cult” founded by a “con man,” suggested some scurrilous comments.

A fair number of people on the Left think Romney was too conservative, while a fair number of the comments on the “Magic underwear” post said some people didn’t vote for Romney because he was insufficiently pro-life. Not surprisingly, those people on the Left think that this means the Republicans must become more “moderate” to succeed, while the people who thought Romney wasn’t sufficiently pro-life think the GOP must become more pro-life, and the hard-lire conservatives think the GOP must become more hard-line conservative.

After due consideration and several sleepless nights — you think I like being that wrong? — I’ve come to a conclusion on the question “what the hell happened?” and that conclusion is:

I don’t know.

What’s more, I don’t think anyone else knows either.

Now, with that out of the way, here are some thoughts.

Overall voter turnout appears to have been somewhat lower than 2008, for both parties (although there are some questions about that). Republican voter turnout in particular was either the same or somewhat lower than 2008. The Center for the Study of the American Electorate gave these estimates:

  • 2012 voter turnout, 57.5% of all eligible voters.
  • 62.3% in 2008.
  • 60.4% in 2004.
  • 54.2% in 2000.

Without lengthy analysis, which I’m hoping Michael Barone will do so I can steal it from him [Ed. note: Barone is “still thinking about it”], it’s hard to be sure, but I think a good working hypothesis is that turnout was depressed for both parties, but Democrat turnout was less depressed that Republican for some reason. In other words, Obama didn’t win the election so much as, for some reason, Republicans and Republican-leaners didn’t go out to vote.

So the question is: “What reason?”

In no particular order, here are some guesses — and remember, I just said I don’t know what happened, so don’t fixate on any of these. They’re all hypotheses, they’re all candidates to be disproven.

Anti-Mormon prejudice. Perhaps a larger number of people than expected simply wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. The obvious first group to suspect is evangelicals, but McCarthy’s look at exit polls says the proportion of evangelicals was actually up from 2008.

This analysis is problematic, however: it could be that more evangelicals wouldn’t vote for Romney, but that was submerged in the group that don’t identify themselves as evangelical but still wouldn’t vote for Romney because of his religion.

Poll tampering and election fraud. We know, at this point, that a number of districts in swing states, for example in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Colorado, had absolutely prodigious turnouts with absolutely stunning proportions of the vote going to Obama. We know some of those, for example in Philadelphia, had incidents of harassment of Republican poll watchers and election judges that would lead to sharp reproofs of a third-world country. And we know that Florida has evidence of very, very suspicious practices in some counties.

Add to that the reports of recent African immigrants being bused into polling stations; not literate in English, requiring translators to read the ballots, they could vote in Ohio because the Ohio voter ID laws were not in force due to court order.

The “Return of the Confederacy” gambit. From the first, liberals worked the notion that no one could possibly vote against Obama’s re-election for any reason other than racism. A late example came from Andrew Sullivan, who claimed the polling maps shortly before the election represented the return of the Confederacy, Sullivan apparently being unaware that the Confederacy didn’t actually include all the middle states up to the Canadian border.

I don’t think this had much effect on committed Romney voters. But what about independents and people who were only mildly in favor of Romney?

It’s entirely possible that people decided not to vote — or “just didn’t get around to it” — because, at the last, they feared being thought racist.

Romney the RINO. A number of people also suggested they didn’t vote for Romney because he wasn’t a sufficiently true Republican. We’ll leave aside the question of how advisable this was for the moment; I’ll save that rant for another time. But it would account for relatively depressed Republican turnout.

A variant of this is “Romney the fool,” based on the problems with Project Orca: the Republican turnout was bad because Romney’s computer system was bad, which resulted in poor Republican turnout. Anecdotally, from what I heard from people actually trying to use Orca, this could have been part of it.

So there it is. All we know for sure is that even though Republicans polled as more enthusiastic, and that the polls showed more Republicans than in 2004 or 2008, they didn’t show up at the poll that counted, on November 6.