Staying Away in Droves

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Staying Away in Droves

In an article entitled “’Nice Guys’ Finish Last” last Tuesday (March 20th), James Taranto makes the following opening observation:

One advantage an incumbent president has when seeking re-election is that he has already persuaded many voters to cast a ballot for him. That means a challenger—or the incumbent himself, by doing a lousy job—has to convince a substantial number to change their minds. Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum will not become president this November without the support of millions who voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

National Review’s Jim Geraghty ponders what this means for this year’s campaign. “Generally speaking,” he observes, “people hate admitting they made a mistake. . . . Very few Obama voters will express their vote for the GOP [nominee] in 2012 as an explicit act of personal penance for bad judgment.” Instead, “a lot of Obama voters must be persuaded that they made the wrong choice in 2008, and that it isn’t their fault.”

I like Taranto’s column very much, and tend to agree with him on most things, but I think he’s made a logical error here by presenting a false dichotomy: voters who voted for Obama in 2008 must either vote for Obama again in 2012, or they must vote for the Republican nominee (almost certainly Romney).  This fallacy discounts a third option: that some 2008 voters could simply stay home and not vote at all.

The 2008 presidential election saw the highest voter turnout since 1968, albeit not by much compared to 2004 (only a percentage point or two).  In fact, the highly touted massive voter turnout predicted by the media never really materialized on a general scale.  However, it did materialize among Obama supporters.  Turnout by registered Democrats was up by about 3%.  However, more significantly, independent turnout was up considerably, almost uniformly voting Democratic.  (It’s difficult to specify percentages among independents, since many states don’t have partisan registration, and some that do don’t provide  an “independent” registration.)    According to the United States Election Project, the 5.4% national increase in 2008 registration came primarily from Independents and Democrats.  Among the twenty-nine states that provide for partisan registration, the number of registrants identifying with the Democratic Party increased 10.8%, compared to 0.5% for Republicans and 12.0% for Independents.)  Black voter turnout increased by almost 5%—and went almost totally for Barak Obama.  The Latino turnout similarly increased by over 2.5%, trending heavily for Obama.  And the youth turnout also increased, though it was not by itself critical to Obama’s victory.

All of which is to say that Romney will not need to convince these people that they made a mistake, and that they should vote for him.  By now, many of them know that they made a mistake—polls show that Obama is increasingly unpopular among independents.  According to Gallup, in 2011 Obama’s approval rating has dropped the most—10 percentage points, from 40% to 30%—among pure independents. These are the roughly 14% of national adults who neither identify with one of the two major parties nor indicate a leaning.  These people don’t have to switch their vote—they could simply get fed up with the choices and not vote at all, thereby taking away votes primarily from the Democratic column.  (This election cycle, not voting at all out of disgust is awfully appealing, if irresponsible.)

Any benefit to decreased Democratic and Independent-voting-Democratic turnout assumes, of course, that Republican turnout does not likewise decrease, or at least does not decrease by as much.  Given our current slate of Republican candidates, color me skeptical.  Many Republicans, particularly tea party, evangelical, and hard-core conservative voters, will not be able to hold their noses hard enough to cast a vote for Romney (or, in the unlikely event he gets the nomination, Santorum, who would at least get the evangelical vote).  Which state of affairs bodes will for Obama, and is reflected in the most recent matchup poll numbers, showing Obama beating Romney 54%-43%.

Here’s a tip: buy stock in gun companies.

Scott Gosnell founded Pros and Cons in 2003. He also has a day job as a practicing attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, which explains his complete irresponsibility with regards to his blogging schedule. In a former life he worked in several churches as a youth minister, where he was forced to do unspeakable things like chew ABC gum (Already Been Chewed), bob for liver (uncooked), and participate in condiment wrestling. Hey, would you look at that – I guess they are speakable. In addition to the practice of law, Scott is a certified law enforcement officer with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Alabama Historical Ironworks Commission, and a tactical firearms instructor. Scott and his wife, Donna, have three children, Caleb, Hannah Beth, and Austin. He also has a dog named Sierra and a cell phone named Curtis.

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