The commentariat attacked Karl Rove for saying that on Fox News believing Rove’s basis was only the Obama negative ad campaign against Romney – which did not move the dial on Romney despite a huge summer blitz. DU’s Seth Masket suggests “less direct effects” as a reason for the summer buy. I believe Masket is correct, and that Obama’s TV was aimed less at dragging down Romney and more – during a time a majority of Americans viewed both political parties unfavorably – at creating a mindset that the election outcome wouldn’t matter to some key voters, especially some Anglos.
Having built a media case for dis-enthusiasm among some voters, the precision of voting declines (viewed by ethnicity and by affiliation) argues that Obamaites used personal contacts to dissuade some voters from registering or voting.
What Colorado’s election numbers show, broadly, is a tiny decline in participation from 2008 to 2012 with two distinct components – Anglo participation dropping while minorities gained. Before the fact, Obama’s people could not have guaranteed that their minority registration drive would be adequate by itself; they needed fewer Anglo voters.
More numbers flesh out this reality.
Colorado has above 2.8 million adult Anglo citizens. [Search 2011 Colorado Tables B05003 and B05003H here.] That was the non-minority potential vote in our state last year (minus felons).
Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling in their election-eve Colorado poll reported that 49% of white voters disapproved of Obama’s job performance. Their earlier October polls of Colorado likely voters had 52% disapproving Anglos … so perhaps some Obama-disapproving Anglos planned to vote in early October but were dissuaded from voting in the final weeks of the campaign, altering the “likely voter” universe.
Regardless of their voting likelihood, Obama-disapproving Anglos numbered 1,380,029, assuming unregistered citizens match likely voter attitudes. Poor Mitt got 1,185,243 votes – not all from Anglos.
That’s at least 194,786 Anglos who could have voted for Romney but either went Obama (a 5% likelihood per Colorado’s exit poll) or were persuaded not to bother to register or vote.
Where were those anti-Obama white folks on Election Day?
We had 2,700,182 active voters when registration closed. Assuming Anglos’ and minorities’ registrations matched their adult citizen population shares, right at 75% of each groups’ adult citizens actually were registered active voters.
If the assumption is correct, that’s a giant increase in minority registrations. In 2008, 61% of Colorado’s Black, Hispanic and Asian citizens registered to vote. Going to 75% registered may be unprecedented! (It’s possible that Anglo turnout may have been above 75% with minority registration at about 64%, but that counter assumption doesn’t appear any stronger upon visual inspection. Whatever the case, minority registrations did grow.)
Anglo active registration in 2004, when Bush was re-elected, was 80.3% of all Anglo citizens. [Calculated from: 4th link, ACS '05, here, here] In 2012, Anglo active registration, using the base assumption, fell to 74.9% of Anglo citizens. [4th link, ACS '11]
Compared to 2004′s Bush win in Colorado – there are 162,196 missing Anglo registered active voters. Liberal registration efforts in Colorado, by the way, purposely avoided white men. Kudos to the Democrats for registering minorities, but a question remains:
Where were all these white folks when registration efforts boomed in Colorado?
This question becomes even more important when party turnouts in ’08 and ’12 are compared. In 2008 registered Republicans turned out at a rate that was 0.9% higher than registered Democrats’ turnout. In 2012, Republicans turned out at a rate that was 3.5% higher. (See data table below.) Republicans’ enthusiasm was decently higher than Democrats’ in 2012.
Add the reality that although almost 99,000 more net Democrats were registered over the four years, only 13,000 more Democrats actually voted. In contrast, Republicans and Independents each had 42% of their additional voters actually voting. Given the small gain in actual voters for the Democrats who registered, did Democrats discourage people from voting instead of turning out Democrats? That vaunted Obama ground game had to be doing something!
Overall it’s unreasonable to assume that Republican-leaning unregistered Coloradans (of the type who had voted in 2004) just accidentally missed the registration boat.
Poor Mitt lost Colorado by 137,858 votes. Between the missing (un)registered Anglo voters and non-Mitt-voting Anglos who were dissatisfied with Obama’s job performance, Romney had the bodies to win – if they’d voted.
330 TV Ads per Day, Plus Radio, Calls, Letters, Door-Knockers, E-Mails, Newspapers, Facebook and Twitter … AARGH!
The Wesleyan Media Project’s co-director, Travis Nelson Ridout of Washington State, reported “There were a total of 52,573 ad airings in the presidential general election (between June 1 and Election Day) in Denver, which just edged out Las Vegas as top ad market in the presidential race.” [My bolding] When split between the two presidential candidates, Obama (and his backers) held a 13% edge over Romney (and his backers) in the Denver market. That communication advantage for Obama doesn’t include all the mail, telephones and Obama field offices and “paid volunteers.” Obama ads focused on anger and fear. (Hope wasn’t even on their list per Wesleyan.)
This negative turn in advertising (echoed by Romney ads) may explain why turnout of registered voters was down in 2012: down 5.7% for Democrats, down 3.1% for Republicans and down 4.4% for Independents. It’s not coincidental that Republicans, resistant to Obama’s claims generally, saw their turnout decline the least.
Obama’s team surely found it easy to build dislike for Romney. After all, in 2008 Anglo discontent about both candidates had grown by 37% while black/Asian/Hispanic discontent diminished by 0.36% compared to 2004.
We should wager Obama’s vaunted micro-targeting operators knew precisely which Anglos to dissuade from bothering to register or vote – regardless of party affiliation. And – given blue collar unhappiness with Obama – plenty of those susceptible to dissuasion would have been Democrats and Independents.
Liberal organizers say five visits can persuade a low-intensity voter to vote for a Democrat. How many contacts (unnoticed except by the successfully discouraged voter) did Obamaites make that kept people from voting? Saying “why bother” is a simple message (with Obama’s sizable media advantage) … especially when 46% of Americans asked themselves that question and decided not to register or vote … in the most expensive election in American history.
BOTTOM LINE: Colorado’s registration and voting numbers show no vote suppression aimed at minorities and plenty of evidence that Anglos were selectively discouraged from registering and voting.
|2008||All Registered Voters||Voted||All Turnout|
Population and voter information in this post comes from Census, State Demographer, Secretary of State and several political science and other researchers. Several individuals with these databanks provided special guidance for which I am grateful. The calculations (and any errors) are mine. While this study focuses on Anglo registration and voting, no data suggest Republicans should ignore the need to dialog with Colorado’s minority citizens.