Three Keys From the Exit Polls

Given the demographics of the 2008 and 2012 elections, the Republican Party is in danger of becoming the “Win In Off Years Only Party” unless we make a full-throated improvement with Hispanic voters.  And, we have to admit it is us, not them.

Want proof?  That’s easy – as of this writing, Mitt Romney is getting 48.7% of the vote, while House Republicans are getting 48.4% of the vote.  The House majority for 2014 (and beyond) is not built on winning the vote, but on fabulous drawing of the congressional district lines.  So even the battleground we won on (congressional) was tilted for us, which we may not be able to count on in ten years.

Further evidence of the Presidential year challenges facing the GOP is evidenced by comparing Mitt Romney’s performance to GOP statewide candidates:

  • Not a single new Republican statewide officeholder won in a state that Mitt Romney did not carry.  In fact, Dean Heller (even though he was a Senator, he had been appointed and thus was running statewide for the first time) is the only Republican to win a statewide Senate or Gubernatorial race in a state carried by Barack Obama.  Heller ran 0.2% ahead of Romney – his opponent was so repugnant to the voters that third party candidates picked up a significant number of Barack Obama/not Shelley Berkley voters.
  • There were 43 contests in either Senate (33 races) or Gubernatorial (10) races.  Romney ran ahead of the Republican candidate in 26 of those races, there was no difference in the vote in five of those races, and the Republican statewide candidate ran ahead of Romney in just twelve of those races (three of whom were incumbents).  Governor-elect Pat McCrory in North Carolina was the only GOP takeover to run ahead of Romney in the country.

Lessons From the Exit Polls

There are three key points from the exit polls:

  1. The first thing I want to point out about the exit polls is that Mitt Romney won white women by 14 points – 56%-42%.  Our challenge is with minority voters, not so much with white women.

White women.  By 14 points.  So, the next time you hear Republicans are struggling with “women” – push back with that.  Yes, the GOP is getting killed with minority women – 4% with African American women, 23% with Latino women – but the whole “war on women cost Romney the election” is simply not true.

Is the 14 point win with white women as strong as Romney’s 27 point win with white men?  No, but we are not out of the game with white women.  Interestingly, Romney gained seven net points over McCain’s 2008 win with white women, and eleven points with white men.

The bigger challenge, as lots of people have focused on, is the increased share of the electorate who are minorities, and how badly Republicans are doing with those groups.  For example, white men dropped from 36% of the electorate in 2008 to 34%, and white women dropped from 39% to 38% now.

Remember, African American vote share stayed at 13% (as I predicted all year). I also predicted Latino vote percentage would climb from 8% in 2008 to 10% this year.  Also correct.  What I missed as that Obama’s vote would go from 66% to 73% with Latinos.  Asians also grew one percent (to 3%), and their support for Obama went from 61% to 73%.  It may not sound like much, but the change in size and support for Obama among Latinos and Asians made a huge difference – partly by reducing the influence of white voters, who support Romney 59%-39%.

Romney’s 59% among whites (72% of the electorate), earned him 42.5% of the national vote.

I spent the 2012 cycle saying that Republicans had a huge math problem – our Presidential candidates can never win a landslide again unless the fundamentals change.  Our opportunity was the political environment, but the math outweighed it.  Unless we are a party that is seriously competitive with Latino voters, we might never win another presidential election again, but it’s going to take a political environment that is overwhelmingly in our favor.

2.  Another key factor in the exit polls is that 46% of the voters were age 18-44, and just 16% were senior citizens.

I had made the case that, as a party, we were overpolling older voters in Presidential years.  (Heck, we are in non-Presidential years too).  Now, one big assumption I made was, between enthusiasm drops and the economy, younger voters would fall to a 40-42% share of the electorate.  That turned out not to be true.

Given that younger voters back Obama while older voters went for Romney, this is significant.  Romney lost voters 18-29 by a 37%-60% count, lost voters 30-44 by a 45%-52% margin, but won voters 45-64 years old by 51%-47% and seniors by 56%-44%.  Yes, Romney won all white age groups, but his margins were much lower among 18-29 year old whites, and more of the 18-44 year olds are minorities anyhow.  The birth dearth among white voters for the last few decades is proving to be the proverbial elephant in the room.

3.  Saving the worst for last is that there are too many Democrats.

To me, the biggest surprise, and concern, is that Democrats were 38% of the electorate, while Republicans were just 32%.  The spread in 2008 was 39% Dem/32% GOP – so this electorate was really no different.

What the party ID gap did was dampen the impact of Romney’s 50%-45% win among Independents.  Republicans voted for Romney at 93%, while Obama got 92% of Democrats.  The party unity among voters meant that Obama started out with a 5.7% lead based on party alone.  The numbers with Independents didn’t cut it by enough to win.

We have entered a world where partisan voters rarely cross party lines.  Unwillingness to work across party lines in Congress is partly driven by unwillingness of partisans to vote across party lines.  If the parties are more evenly matched, then winning Independents is more important.  But, if the Democrats having a six-seven point party ID advantage in Presidential years is the new normal, then it is much more problematic for us.

So, What Does This Meaning For Polling In 2014

First and foremost, we have to make sure we have enough younger voters in our 2014 surveys.  It will not be as high as 2012, but it will be higher than many pollsters are sampling.

Secondly, we need to set a higher cell phone only component (30%?) to our polls in 2013-2014.  This will cost more money (Congress can fix this problem in a simple way by passing a law that allows autodialers – which then transfer to live interviewers – for voter surveys of N=1,500 or less).  This will help us include more younger voters and more minorities.  Be aware, cell phone surveying could be as high as 50% or more by 2016.

Thirdly, Republican campaigns have to poll until the end of the campaign.  Our election night survey of 1600 voters found that Republicans lost late deciders on the generic ballot by a 41%-56% margin – so among voters who decided at the end, they went with the Democrats by 15 points – reinforcing the straight ticket voting, as well as the boost the Democrats got from Sandy, among late deciders.