Friday, August 23, 2013

2012 Election: Cheating the Tea Party

"[Politics] is . . . a continuation of [war] by other means."

--Carl von Clausewitz (updated, revised)

Obama’s 2012 election victory was historic, achieved as it was in the face of high unemployment and falling middle class incomes. Obama’s coalition of minorities, unmarried women, and young people voted against their economic self-interest just as downscale, rural white supporters of George W. Bush arguably did in 2004 and 2000 (see Thomas Frank’s 2004 bestseller, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America).

Also, we have recognized the Obama campaign’s singular technological achievement in every 2012 “toss-up” state of skillfully finding and delivering its voting base to the polls. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan was among the many conservatives paying tribute to the Obama campaign’s technical prowess. Praising the Obama machine last May, she with these words simultaneously diminished the president’s actual achievements:
after the 2012 election the Democrats bragged about their technological genius and how it turned the election. They told the world about what they'd done—the data mining, the social networking, that allowed them to zero in on Mrs. Humperdink in Ward 5 and get her to the polls. It was quite impressive and changed national politics forever. But I suspect their bragging hurt their president. In 2008 Mr. Obama won by 9.5 million votes. Four years later, with all the whizbang and money, he won by less than five million.
When people talk about 2012 they don't say the president won because the American people endorsed his wonderful leadership, they say he won because his team outcomputerized the laggard Republicans. This has left him and his people looking more like cold technocrats who know how to campaign than leaders who know how to govern. And it has diminished claims of a popular mandate.
Then in June, after details of the IRS’s suppression of right-wing groups became public, Noonan offered an even less charitable take on Obama’s re-election:
Think about [2012:] The first thing we learned, in the weeks after the voting, was that the Obama campaign was operating with a huge edge in its technological operation—its vast digital capability and sophistication. The second thing we learned, in the past month, is that while the campaign was on, the president’s fiercest foes, in the Tea Party, were being thwarted, diverted and stopped. . . The president’s victory now looks colder, more sordid.
Noonan was re-enforcing the findings of conservative economist Stan Veuger, who wrote on the American Enterprise Institute‘s blog:
It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party movement dealt the president his famous “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm election. Less well-known is the actual number of votes this new movement delivered—and the continuing effects these votes could have had in 2012 had the movement not been demobilized by the IRS.
the Tea Party movement’s huge success [in 2010] was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.
The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes—more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5-8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.
Cheating. Or is it that “all’s fair in love and war” and politics? Seems like.

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