November 13, 2012

Lessons from the 2012 Election

by Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center
Special to the Wall Street Journal

By Andrew Kohut, Pew Research Center President

November 14, 2012

Postelection talk of “lessons learned” is ­often exaggerated and misleading, and so it is in 2012.

A week after President Obama won re-election, two themes are dominant. First, that Mr. Obama kept his job because key elements of his base—notably young people, African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans—turned out for him. Second, that the growing size of these voting blocs represents a decisive challenge for the Republican party.

Both points are true, but most observers are overstating the gravity of the GOP’s problem. In particular, they are paying too little attention to how weak a candidate Mitt Romney was, and how much that hurt Republican prospects.

Here is what the exit poll found. Mr. Romney’s personal image took a hard hit during the primary campaign and remained weak on election day. Just 47% of exit-poll respondents viewed him favorably, compared with 53% for Mr. Obama. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney’s favorable ratings were among the lowest recorded for a presidential candidate in the modern era. A persistent problem was doubt about his empathy with the average voter. By 53% to 43%, exit-poll respondents said that Mr. Obama was more in touch than Mr. Romney with people like themselves.

Mr. Romney was never fully embraced by Republicans themselves, which may have inhibited the expected strong Republican turnout. Pew’s election-weekend survey found Mr. Romney with fewer strong supporters (33%) than Mr. Obama (39%). Similarly, a much greater percentage of Obama supporters (80%) than Romney supporters (60%) told Pew that they were voting for their candidate rather than against his opponent.

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