The dead ends for Romney’s campaign
The Romney team seemed to misread cues from the inception of his campaign, all the way through to the waning days. Its poor political judgments were Mitt Romney’s undoing. But just one bad decision didn’t do him in. There are several reasons why the Romney campaign was unsuccessful: his failure to appeal to key demographics on the right, his advertising strategy in swing states, his (and President Obama’s) response to Hurricane Sandy, and his inability to counter the Obama campaign’s grassroots fieldwork.
Romney was electable. His platform appealed to a large portion of average Americans — Republicans, independents, and moderates who were disillusioned with Obama. However, he very much failed to appeal to the Republican base, the core of the conservative party. The party supported him because he was their best option, but they were never really sold on him. Many prominent members were dismissive of him, even in the last week of the election (here’s lookin’ at you, Chris Christie). The Republican Party simply wasn’t united behind Romney, and it sent the clear message to the American public that even the party faithful weren’t completely convinced.
And then there were groups (at least 47 percent of the American public…) that Romney just didn’t appeal to at all. It is arguable that he wouldn’t have ever been able to, but he never really tried. Romney gave off the George H. W. Bush this-guy-can’t-relate-to-me vibe and he never adequately addressed it. He is clearly in a different tax bracket than the average American, but instead of down playing his wealth, Romney allowed it to remain newsworthy, mostly because of his longtime refusal to release his tax returns. He should have worked to appear relatable (a la George W. Bush), but instead of seeming authentic, Romney routinely dodged giving straightforward answers and came off as a wishy-washy flip-flopper.
There were also important demographics whose issues Romney completely neglected to address. His policies didn’t appeal to minority voters and alienated women voters. These two groups of voters were ultimately the ones who played a large role in re-electing Obama. Although Romney was successful with white males, this tired demographic is outnumbered by other social groups. His failure to target different demographics cost him votes.
The Romney campaign stumbled in their advertising strategies, especially in swing states. Because of increased party polarization in the United States, there were fewer undecided voters in this year’s election than in years past. Most of these voters are low-information, meaning they don’t have an arsenal of political background against which to interpret new information. Such voters are most easily swayed through methods like television ads.
The Republicans spent a lot of money on ads in swing states during the last couple of weeks of the campaign, while the Democrats spent more on advertising throughout the campaign. Toward the end of the campaign, the Obama campaign focused its advertising efforts in Florida and Virginia, even when Florida was leaning Republican, in order to keep it still in play, which sent the message that the Democrats believed they could win it. This maneuvering kept Romney’s campaign off-balance. His campaign’s response was to spread its attention between too many swing states instead of allowing him to focus on a few.
Romney out-spent Obama on advertising in the final two weeks of the campaign. But this strategy was clearly not effective because by the end of the campaign, there were too few undecided voters left to sway. Some previously undecided voters cast their votes early, others had already made up their minds before the last two weeks of the campaign, and those who hadn’t weren’t as affected by ads as they should’ve been.
Instead, I think these voters were more affected by other last-minute factors, such as Hurricane Sandy. Sandy’s aftermath forced voters to think about the role of the federal government within days of the election. Democratic support for a larger federal government looks appealing in the wake of a natural disaster. The weeks before the election gave Obama enough time to shine on disaster relief, without any time for retrospective backlash about what should’ve been done differently. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people spent days in the dark and cold without any contact from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, or other relief agencies. Romney couldn’t get that message out. Instead, the country was inundated with images of Obama and Christie working in tandem for the greater good. Obama was reaching across the aisle to his Republican counterpart, which was great PR at a crucial time.
Sandy also allowed Americans to see how Romney would hypothetically handle a natural disaster as president. Romney, who had previously supported shifting the responsibility for relief from federal funding to that of charities and the private sector, didn’t react so well to Sandy. He ignored questions about FEMA and released a statement saying that “states should be in charge of emergency management,” because state-level responders would know best where to send relief efforts, including “help from the federal government and FEMA.”
While this answer was appropriate, it was still defensive and looked even worse compared to how effectively Obama handled Sandy relief efforts. Romney’s response seemed like continued campaigning when compared to Obama’s actual efforts to help. To make matters worse, prominent members of the Republican Party, like Christie, were praising Obama’s efforts.
Something else outside of Romney’s control, but that definitely worked against his success, was the Obama campaign’s well-run fieldwork. Obama’s get-out-the-vote outreach programs were effective at targeting youth and minority voters, who, based on the economy and social ideology, should be voting for him, and getting those groups to go vote. The grassroots Obama campaign shined at getting a really large group of people to canvass, make phone calls, and vote. The outcome would have been in Romney’s favor if he had similarly been able to target the people who would have voted for him and worked to get them to vote in larger numbers.
Easier said than done. But it is very clear that something must be done if the Republican Party has hopes for the future. Marco Rubio, anyone?
photo by James B. Currie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbcurrie/7760105884/