Why Romney Couldn’t Romp

One of the striking numbers in the recent US presidential election are the popular vote figures. John McCain was seen as an underdog candidate right from the start of the 2008 election, yet he pulled in 59.9 million votes. Mitt Romney, in many ways a more viable candidate in a more Republican-friendly environment, secured only 57.8 million.

In other words, Romney pulled in over 2 million less votes than McCain. Despite four years of high unemployment under the Obama administration, controversial healthcare measures, and whatnot he couldn’t garner more conservative support than McCain. And the electorate turned rightward as can be seen in the nice animated graphic in the New York Times.

And it wasn’t as if Barack Obama was riding high. He saw his vote also drop – from 69.4 million to 60.6 million. His margin of victory in his reelection bid fell to 2.4 per cent compared to a massive 7.2 per cent he saw in 2008.

So why couldn’t Romney convert all this into a winning edge?

At the heart of his inability to win was that he couldn’t bridge the gaps within his own party. McCain couldn’t either, but he still mobilized two million more votes than Romney. Why?

The problem is that the polarisation that afflicts Republican and Democratic politics today also afflicts the internal ranks of the party. The Tea Party movement, the disintegration of the moderate Republican corpus that existed in the Midwest since the Civil War, and the increasingly disproportionate influence of evangelical groups in the Midwest and South – all these contributed to a party deeply divided.

Republican presidential candidates have to bridge the gaps between the disparate ideologies of the party – Western libertarians, Southern conservatives and metropolitan corporate types. And this has become increasingly difficult to do. Neither McCain nor Romney appealed to the party’s conservatives. Add to this the views of independent voters, and the ideological spread that a Republican candidate today has to cover to win elections is simply impossible.

The result: an ever decreasing ability to turnout the vote. If McCain had achieved George W. Bush figures of turnout, he would have had about 1.7 million more votes. Romney couldn’t match McCain and lost a further 2.2 million votes.

A similar polarisation has taken place with the Democrats. The sliding numbers of the Blue Dogs – Democratic legislators who were fiscally conservative but socially liberal – from a height of over 54 members to probably about 10 today is a sign of this. But it has not been as severe and as distant from the independent voter’s viewpoint as the Republican has been.

If you are a fiscal conservative and social liberal, there used to be space in both Democratic and Republican parties for you.

Today, that space is only found in the Democratic Party. Democrats will tolerate some market economics (though not light regulation) but Republicans have no tolerance for the socially liberal. Libertarians, I would presume, are a fading force in Republican politics.

Romney couldn’t romp. But it is not clear these days if any Republican would be able to.

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