The nation has changed a lot in the past few decades, and the GOP has been slow to catch on, and adjust their pitch accordingly.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have been right on top of it, and have campaigned on a theme that says "we represent you, and they don't."
And that's why Obama won despite all the historical precedent that says "a president cannot win if unemployment is so high."
Obama won because the issues didn't matter. Who you are is now more important than anything else.
The polls told us that most people thought that the economy was the most important issue, and that most felt the nation was heading in the wrong direction. The same polls also told us that most people thought Romney was the candidate better suited to deal with our economic problems. Yet Obama won.
Bill Clinton's "It's The Economy, Stupid" campaign theme in 1992 worked in 1992, but it just didn't work in 2012. Because we have a different group of voters today than we did twenty years ago.
NY Times and CNN exit polls, Obama won:
93% of black voters (which is actually LESS than he got in 2008)
85% of Muslim-American voters
80% of non-white voters
76% of gay voters
73% of Asian voters
71% of Hispanic voters
70% of people who say they have no religion
68% of Jewish voters
62% of unmarried voters
69% of urban voters
60% of young voters (aged 18-29)
60% of poor voters (incomes under $30,000)
In every group above, Obama won a huge landslide victory. Add them all together, and you have 52% of the vote, or a slim majority. But majority does rule, so that's all that counts in our system of government.
Obama had to win most of them, because merely winning half of them would not have created an electoral majority. He did what he had to do. He ran the table for every minority group and created a slim majority out of it.
If you aren't in one of those groups listed above, then there is a 90% chance you voted for Romney. The problem is our population has changed so much that a huge majority of Americans are now in one of those groups, so the Democrats can win every close election for the foreseeable future.
If you look at the very same exit polls you will see that the vote was evenly split on matters involving issues rather than identity. Roughly an equal percentage of voters though Obama would do a good job on foreign policy as thought Romney would. The same thing is true for handling the deficit, healthcare policy, the economy, "saving medicare" or tax policy.
So Obama forged a coalition of people who could identify with him, based on their personal situations, rather than on any political issues. A slim majority of our electorate voted for Obama because "he is more like us," rather than because they were happy about the last four years and his performance.
The nation that rejected Jimmy Carter's reelection bid in 1980 by a huge margin, narrowly reelected Barack Obama 32 years later in 2012. But the voters have changed a lot since then. The issues mattered more in 1980, and identifying with the candidate matters more in 2012.
The implications of all this are profound for the GOP. Because they simply cannot change our culture with a clever election campaign. It took the Democrats 40 years to move the nation to the left, and you just can't move it back with a few months of smart campaigning.
|The campaign theme that worked best|
This means that the GOP cannot campaign on issues anymore, because the issues might not matter. And if they try to run on an identity campaign ("we are the old white people") then they will surely lose in the future.
The one thing that the GOP cannot do is to try to pander to those groups that Obama won by large margins. Because if they do that, then they win very few new voters, and lose a great many of their existing voters.
I'd say that the Republicans are pretty much screwed now.