All of the amateur psephologists on the right have been glumly sifting through the election data, searching for some hopeful explanation of what happened on Tuesday, and several have seized on the curious case of the missing voters.
Early counts of voter indicate turnout was lower than in the 2008 election in every state, and although the unaccountably prolonged process of vote-counting will eventually increase the final numbers it appears the decline was significant. Conservatives can find some consolation in the fact that Obama almost certainly won’t match the number of votes he won four years earlier, but they also have to face the sobering truth that Romney will likely wind up with fewer votes than the famously uninspiring campaign of John McCain.
Although some of the decline can be attributed to the storm that swept through much of the northeast in the week preceding the election, other reasons are clearly required for the rest of the country. The fall in Obama’s vote haul is easily explained by the vast gulf between the extravagant earth-healing promises of his ’08 campaign and the dismal economic record that he was saddled with in ’12, but it’s harder to say why anyone willing to take the effort to vote for McCain wouldn’t have done the same four years later for Romney.
Some will say it was because the election was of little interest outside the swing states that were blitzed with campaign rallies and constant television advertising, a plausible theory given that most of the mass media quite were happy to distract their audiences from the important issues of the campaign, but turnout was apparently down in those beleaguered swing states as well. Others will contend that Romney was never fully embraced by the most hard-core conservatives of his party, but by the election day he was certainly regarded as a more rock-ribbed type than the even squishier McCain. There are the predictable suggestions that Romney’s Mormonism scared off evangelical voters, but our wide circle of evangelical friends and acquaintances seemed genuinely enthusiastic about his candidacy.
Only in retrospect do we see that Romney’s upbeat and well-behaved campaign might have failed to motivate those McCain voters to trudge back to the polls. The campaign’s assumption was that animus toward Obama would suffice to turn out the right-most voters and that a soft sell was required to win over the moderates who might be scared off by an angrier tone, which seemed reasonable enough at the time and at one point even seemed to be working, but as of now there is no denying that it simply did not work. A more alarmist campaign that screamed of the impending debt crisis and collapse of the entitlement system might not have worked, either, but at least it would have given the Republican party’s candidate in 2016 a chance to say that the voters were warned.
Our best guess, though, is that all those missing voters simply gave up on politics at some point in the last four years. Some were likely the usual sort of apolitical Americans who got caught up in the unusually high level of interest in the ’08 campaign and quickly reverted to their less depressing interests, while others were people who followed politics with a sufficiently keen attention to notice how very badly it is going and how unlikely it is that anyone currently in the political arena will be able to change course. It was always a gamble that Romney would have been able to tame the ravenous appetites of the public for the government goodies, and one that we were willing to make, but it’s not entirely irrational for someone to conclude that it really wasn’t worth leaving the house and standing in line.
Those people aren’t going to like what they’ll get, of course, and one can only hope that they’ll dislike it enough to be back the polls next time.
— Bud Norman