What Can We Learn from 2010 in 2012?

After the exhilaration of the Republican tsunami, here is a reality check that Republicans must heed if the GOP is to take back the White House in 2012 and keep Obama a one-term president.

The 2010 victory of Republican candidates in solid blue or battleground states does not mean the state has turned red for the 2012 presidential election. Any Republican who thinks otherwise needs to examine historical political trends.

For the 2010 midterms, voters were older, whiter, richer, and more conservative -- and in 2012 their votes could once again be diluted by younger, liberal, blue-collar, and non-white Democratic voters showing up en masse. Further thinning the stew from the 2010 midterm voter groups will be millions of 18-year-olds voting for the first time, and quite likely Democratic.

According to the 2010 CNN national exit poll, here are the ideological and party data that yielded such large Republican victories:

  • Liberals comprised 20% of the electorate and voted 90% Democrat.
  • Conservatives comprised 42% of the electorate and voted 84% Republican.
  • Moderates comprised 38% of the electorate and voted 42% Republican and 55% Democrat.

Here is the breakdown by party identification:

  • Democrats comprised 35% of the electorate and voted 91% Democrat.
  • Republicans comprised 35% of the electorate and voted 94% Republican.
  • Independents comprised 29% of the electorate and voted 37% Democrat and 56% Republican.

Obviously, moderates and Independents turned out to supplement Republican conservatives in 2010.

The most important question for the 2012 election: can Republicans count on this fickle group of moderates and Independents to vote for the GOP presidential candidate in 2012 and turn Obama’s 2008 blue states red? For without their support in key states, the GOP will not be able to put together the winning coalition of 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.

So with all this is mind, here are just five examples of electorally rich 2008 blue states that turned “red” in 2010:  Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Jersey (which actually turned “red” in 2009). All these states, even with a current of red running through them, have strong historical odds of staying presidential blue in 2012 unless Republicans nominate a remarkable candidate who can break through.

(Ohio was not included in this group, for it is a traditional red state now back to trending red even though it went Obama blue in 2008. However, it will be an important battleground state in 2012.)


Republican wishful thinking is that Florida went red in 2010 will stay red for 2012 with the election of both a Republican governor and Republican U.S. senator.

This is not a safe assumption.

The stakes are unbelievably high, for if the GOP presidential candidate loses Florida’s 29 electoral votes (up from 27 in 2008), he or she could lose the 2012 presidential election.

But since life is unfair, Obama could win re-election without Florida.

Here are the numbers to ponder.

Governor Rick Scott was elected with a small margin of 48.9% vs. 47.7% against Alex Sink, his Democratic opponent. Senator Marco Rubio was elected by winning 48.9% of the vote in a quirky three-way race against Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who jumped ship, ran as an Independent, and garnered 29.7% of the vote, and against Democrat Congressman Kendrick Meek, who received 20.1% of the vote. Crist and Meek earned 49.8% to Rubio’s 48.9%.

The very small margins of these victories should be warning signs to Republicans in the next general election, because the 2010 midterms had a conservative voter base; prevailing sentiment was extremely favorable to Republicans, and Independent voters also jumped on board. Thus, Florida in 2011 can hardly be considered a red state.

Also, Florida in 2012 will be the most fiercely contested state because Obama knows a win there could guarantee his chances of re-election.

Remember how Obama won Florida in 2008 by 50.9% to McCain’s 48.4%. Very close by Obama’s 2008 standards, with so many lopsided victories in other states.

In 2004, Bush won Florida by a more comfortable margin, 52% to 47.1 %. And we know what happened in the 2000 presidential election. See the HBO movie Recount if you don’t.

Will history repeat itself in 2012? There is a good chance of that happening, but this time with no hanging chads.

One of Obama’s Florida political consultants recently wrote an interesting piece titled "So Just How Close is Florida?" Recommended reading for paranoid Republicans concerned about 2012.