Where did the Republicans lose the 2012 election? The same place they always counted on winning. Southwest Ohio.
If you want to understand the challenges facing the Ohio Republican Party going forward you need to understand what is going on in Southwest Ohio. And if you are a Democrat who wants to keep winning elections, you need to understand how the smart Republicans are looking at this election in order to anticipate the new strategy.
The arithmetic in Ohio elections is really pretty simple. The Democratic Advantage in Cuyahoga County has grown to a little over about 236,000 votes. In Franklin County, the advantage has grown to about 100,000 votes (almost double the 2004 advantage).
George Bush famously targeted the reliable Republican counties surrounding Cincinnati in the 2004 election to make up this difference. In 2004, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties provided enough new Republican votes to help make up the difference and carry the state for Bush.
(Aside: Many argue that the 2004 Marriage Amendment helped drive up turn-out by conservative religious voters in these areas. This is now not as clear as many originally thought – but that is a subject for another post.)
The problem for the Republicans is that the Republican vote in these areas has not continued to grow. Here is a quick table of recent votes for Republican Presidential Candidates from these counties.
|2000 Votes||2000 %||2004 Votes||2004 %||2008 Votes||2008 %||2012 Votes||2012 %|
The vote totals in these areas jumped in the 2004 election. Yet in the last two elections, the Republican vote totals are remarkably steady, if not slightly decreasing, both in terms of percentage and total votes for Republican presidential candidates. A graph is always helpful. Look:
This illustrates where the Republicans lost. In the words of Professor Fink, “Please to explain it.” In the 2012 election, we heard a lot about “Voter Enthusiasm.” The idea was that conservative voters would be so eager to vote out president Obama that they would vote in record numbers. In other words, Republican turnout would grow.
Right up to Election Day, the Romney campaign anticipated that “enthusiasm among Republican voters and the Romney ground game will lead them to victory on Election Day.” A campaign official told ABC that “the Romney campaign has been knocking on more doors per week in Ohio than John McCain’s team did during their entire campaign” and also said that “the campaigns own internal polling showing greater ‘voter intensity,’ among Republican voters, particularly in Ohio, than there is among Democrats.” Other Republicans relied on the voter enthusiasm strategy. Governor John Kasich told CBS news that “If you were out here on the ground…the enthusiasm is really with Republicans.”
Our friends at Third Base Politics actually analyzed things pretty well back in September when assessing the need to increase Republican turnout (and believing that this could be done): “this election is going to come down to turnout. We got beat badly on the ground in 2008. As of a couple of weeks ago, our side had already surpassed the number of voter contacts made during all of the 2008 season. We are doing much better . . .” After the election, Third Base Politics said, “So what happened? We didn’t show up.”
The problem facing the Republicans is that Third Base Politics is only half right. They are right in that if the GOP had continued to grow the Republican vote by 20% in just these counties in the last two elections, they could have won Ohio. They are wrong, however, because the data suggests that the Republicans DID show up. They came out and voted in about the same numbers as the previous two Presidential elections. The problem is that the Republicans can’t find any new voters in these areas. The conclusion is obvious. Even with all of that enthusiasm, they have hit a ceiling.
So when you read about the Republican problems over the coming weeks, think of Southwest Ohio. The GOP tried to repeat what it did in 2004 and find a bunch of new voters in these reliably Republican areas. As Joseph notes, they failed. That is why they need to find a new strategy beyond turnout.