Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Real Romney and the Electoral Math

Does the secret video reveal "the Real Romney"? I'm not so sure. I think he's smarter than this.

A new Pew Research report provides a detailed look at key demographic patterns in presidential preference, comparing 2008 results with 2012 polling. The numbers, which show President Obama leading Romney 51 to 42 and ahead with a variety of demos, across multiple age groups and income categories, with women but not with men, and behind by 7 points with Whites overall. There are significant racial and gender gaps, but nonetheless it's a pretty diverse group.

This broad range of Obama voters is not new--the breakdowns are fairly similar to the 2008 exit poll results--but it is a reminder. The numbers make it harder to ignore something that seems to have been glossed over in the discussion of Romney's controversial comments about the 47%. Romney made his remarks about dependency and victimhood in response to a donor's question about how he would win over more voters between then and the election.  His answer was that he needed to focus on winning over a small group (5 to 10% of the electorate) of the independents but that president Obama  had a built in advantage because the Republican message of lower taxes wouldn't appeal to the 47%-- all the people at the bottom (really the bottom plus a large chunk of the middle, nearly half of all Americans) who had gotten used to dependence on the government and weren't paying any (federal income) taxes.

This explanation would justify Romney's lackluster performance in the polls so far and explain his strategy of focusing a a narrow section of the electorate moving forward, the electoral equivalent of target marketing. It makes sense except the argument is based on a bizarrely inaccurate claim about the relationship between income and voter preference. Obama doesn't own the lower and middle of the income scale and Romney, despite the electoral shorthand so many engage in, doesn't really own the upperclass.  In reality, the relationship between income and presidential preference is more complicated and variable than that. People vote their values, they vote their ideology, and yes they vote on the economy but not in a self interested, individual pocketbook way but rather with an eye to how the country or their community is doing as a whole.  35% of the lowest income folks say they're voting for Romney and about half of the high income folks making more than $100k annually plan to vote for Obama.

So this all begs the question:  Is Romney really so uninformed about who his voters are and what motivates them, or does he just not mind misleading his donors? Given all the attention to social issues and family values on the stump and at the convention, I'm guessing he and the RNC understand the complexities of voter choice. So what does that say about his belief in the 47% argument? Maybe it's not the poor and middle class that Romney disdains? Or maybe he was just reaching for a reason to lower expectations, one other than the disadvantage of his not being Latino...
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