What Happened? One Week Later, Nobody Knows
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.