A version of this column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
To paraphrase the traditional Passover formulation honored in Jewish homes: why was this election different from all other elections? What makes 2012 stand out in recent political history, either as a temporary anomaly or a significant, long-term shift in the electorate?
The most striking change in the results this year involved a precipitous and alarming decline in voter participation, a drop-off that stemmed from a deliberate strategy by the Obama campaign and almost certainly provided the president with his margin of victory. Meanwhile, much of the conventional wisdom about the results has been fatuous and unsubstantiated, ignoring the troubling reality of disillusioned voters.
For instance, there’s no basis for the common claim Obama won through a superb, unprecedented, supremely effective get-out-the-vote effort by the Democrats. Even downcast Republicans have hailed the opposition’s turnout operation as magnificent, but they fail to note that it resulted in far fewer voters showing up for President Obama.
The president drew 7.6 million fewer votes than he did in the hope-and-change election of 2008. His vote total, 61,911,000, is far closer to the numbers in Sen. John Kerry’s losing bid in 2004 than to his own triumphant support four years ago. Even the reviled President George W. Bush earned more raw votes, from a much smaller potential electorate, in his own reelection bid than Obama did in his.
It’s also not true that a powerful surge of new black and Latino support powered the president to victory. Exit polls showed that Obama got a slightly smaller percentage of the black vote than last time and that turnout was sharply down, delivering at least 1.5 million fewer African-American ballots for the Democrats. A slightly enlarged Latino electorate and an increase in the president’s percentage of Hispanic voters, to 71 percent from 67 percent, did provide him an additional 700,000 votes, but the falloff in black support still meant that overall “minority votes” for Obama went down, not up.