Why Obama won: Negative ads, Ohio, minorities, and the 47%

Election night, 2012.
Election night, 2012.
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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It was supposed to be a nail-biting night. So how did US President Barack Obama win so handily? The 2012 results reflect a combination of a winning strategy from the Democrats, some missteps from the Republicans, and the reality of shifting demographics across the US. That’s the take from a smattering of media coverage this morning, including two important articles on the front page of this morning’s Wall Street Journal. They argue:

1. The president’s negative messaging worked. Back in May, strategists convinced Barack Obama to go for Mitt Romney’s jugular, to define him before he could afford to define himself. That is an about-face from the way campaigns usually work—starting off with a positive message and letting the battle get uglier later on. The timing worked because Romney had just come out of a tough primary campaign and his Republican challengers had already begun some of the dirty work.

2. The 47%. By the time Romney’s now-infamous marks were unveiled, he’d already been painted as an “out-of’-touch conservative.” To recap, the former Massachusetts governor was caught on tape saying his electoral strategy has been to write off nearly half the country as Obama voters. The 47%, he said back then, “believe that they are victims,” and don’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” On Sept. 18, Bloomberg View called it an “utter disaster” for Romney, and headlined the piece: “Today, Mitt Romney Lost the Election.”

3. Ohio (and the economy) matters. Obama’s economic stimulus package, the auto bailout, and his party’s courting of unions gave him a boost in battleground states. Politico says, “The popularity of the auto bailout in the Buckeye State [Ohio] with unionized manufacturers is hard to overstate. …Obama’s relationship with labor has not always been sanguine. But in the end, he owes a lot to unions, which proved their muscle remains strong.”

4. Finally, the new Americans are here to stay. Republicans mistakenly thought the 2008 enthusiasm for Obama—among young people, women, blacks, Latinos, even Asians—would be short lived. They gambled wrong. Romney won easily among six out of 10 white voters but lost by steep margins among every other ethnic group. Fox News conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly has conceded: “The white establishment is now the minority. …The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”