Turnout was apparently down, at least as a percentage of eligible voters. The president was re-elected by a reduced margin. The challenger didn't inspire the turnout surge he needed.
Every re-elected president since Andrew Jackson has won with an increased popular vote percentage. Barack Obama didn't. He won 53 percent to 46 percent in 2008. His numbers as I write are 50 percent to 48 percent over Mitt Romney. That could go up to 51 percent to 48 percent when California finishes its count, which took five weeks in 2008.
Obama owes most of his electoral vote majority of 332 to negative campaigning. His strategists barraged the target states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia with attack ads against Romney for months.
The ads took a toll. Preliminary figures show that outside the eight clear target states, Obama's percentage declined by 2.8 points. In the firewall states, it was down by only 1.4 points and in five other target states by only 2.1 points.
That enabled him to win those three firewall states by a total of about 250,000 votes. A 2.8 percent swing everywhere would have left him narrowly ahead in the popular vote and with 290 electoral votes.
That would have been similar to the 286 electoral votes George W. Bush won when he was re-elected by 51 percent to 48 percent. But turnout that year was sharply up, from 105 million in 2000 to 122 million in 2004. Turnout rose to 131 million in 2008. It looks to be about 129 million this year.
Examination of county election results suggests that the Obama organization did an excellent job of increasing black voter turnout in the central cities and Southern rural areas in the target states. It also did a great job of turning out Hispanics in metro Denver and Las Vegas, and non-Cuban Hispanics in Miami-Dade County and Osceola and Orange Counties around Disney World in Florida.
Blacks are unlikely to record larger margins for Democrats ever again. But the increased Hispanic margin for Obama poses a serious challenge to Republicans in years ahead.
The Obamaites were less successful in making gains in university counties in the target states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. Under-30 voter support for Obama declined from 66 percent to 32 percent in 2008 to 60 percent to 37 percent in 2012.
This was enough for Obama to win, though he trailed among over-30s by two points after carrying them by one point in 2008. Will the Millennials stay Democratic? The baby boomers cast equal numbers of votes for George McGovern and Richard Nixon in 1972, while their elders favored Nixon by nearly 2-1. But this year, boomers (now age 45 to 64) backed Romney. Youthful political attitudes don't always endure.
Currently, Millennials are hard-pressed to find jobs and heavy with college loan debt, and Obamacare leaves them subsidizing their elders. A generation that likes to create its own world is not in sync with policies that treat them as tiny cogs in giant machines. White Millennials backed Romney by 52 percent to 44 percent.
Then consider the results for the House of Representatives. Not many people split their tickets these days, but the discontented voters who re-elected a Democratic president also returned a Republican House, probably by a similar popular vote margin.
There's an interesting contrast here with 1996. Then, a Democratic president was re-elected by a wider margin, while House Republicans held onto their majority by just a few seats.
This year, the Democratic president was re-elected with a smaller majority, while House Republicans have won or are leading in 235 districts, the most they held between 1994 and 2006. Based on the latest count, they lost only seven seats, even though Democratic redistricting plans cost them 11 seats in California, Illinois and Maryland.
This despite the fact that almost every House Republican supported Paul Ryan's Medicare reforms, which were supposed to cost Republicans votes -- but didn't when they had a chance to explain that people over 55 aren't affected and that Obamacare cut $716 billion from Medicare.
So Obama owes most of his victory margin to negative personal campaigning, while Republicans held the House despite -- or because of -- their opposition to big-government policies.
The president claims a mandate because, as he said in 2009, "I won." But Speaker John Boehner has some basis for claiming a mandate, too, as the fiscal cliff negotiations begin.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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