What mattered in the 2012 election cycle


It’s been almost 3 weeks since the general election of 2012 finally, painfully, blessedly, wrapped up.

For some reason, we as Republicans seem loathe to do the type of introspection that is healthy after a loss. Perhaps it’s because there’s a fine-line between learning from your experiences and placing blame when things don’t go as planned or desired. Learning = good. Blaming = not good.

With that, here are 5 things I think really mattered (besides money and incumbency – those always matter).

1. Data matters. Holy cow, does it matter. The Obama campaign told us what they were going to do. There are scads of articles over the last couple of years talking about how data was driving the 2012 election. Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, took the Obama campaign into new territory (again), where his plethora of data geeks hung out in “The Cave” and analyzed input day in and day out for months. Data is not enough, however. It has to be used! The Obama campaign knew this. So did Jim Matheson. He dug deeply into data – and I mean deeply. His entire campaign was data-driven AND he translated that data into a plan. He worked the plan. He tested and tweaked the plan and worked some more. Other Utah candidates used data to drive winning campaigns as well, perhaps most notably Ben McAdams and Orrin Hatch.

2. GOTV matters. Get-out-the-vote strategies in close elections can make the difference between waking up as a president-elect, or a footnote on Wikipedia. (I know. Ouch.) GOTV sounds SO basic – and it is – yet Democrats beat us at this game over and over and over when it matters most. (Let’s be honest – if you’re down 30 or 40 points, it’s not going to get you a win.) In Utah, I think the Democrats have us beaten on GOTV. I know, I know, Republicans have super-majorities in the House and Senate, have the Governor’s mansion, and have almost all of the federal delegation. BUT – most of those races are decided by convention and almost all are decided by the June primary at the latest. When it really counts, we don’t do GOTV all that well. Largely, we don’t need to know how – so we ignore it or we hope we can figure it out on the fly. Plus, it’s not a “sexy” campaign position, so there aren’t many people scrambling to do the job…….

3. Social media and an online presence matter. Obama won younger voters, plain and simple – and they’re online. You can get some good insight into the level of engagement any given campaign has by looking at their online presence. It’s not a perfect predictor of outcome but a candidate that “gets it” is much more likely to win when matched against a relatively equal opponent who doesn’t get it. Here’s a nugget – the Obama campaign outspent Romney online by a margin of 10 to 1 – and they used data to drive those spending decisions. Messina predicts that future campaigns will be a combination of online work plus old-fashioned GOTV efforts. He says the TV markets have reached (probably passed) their peak effectiveness. Times, they are a’changing, and just like 2008, the Democrats are catching the wave of the future while Republicans are wondering what hit them.

4. Likeability matters. We may not like that likeability matters. We may grumble and complain because it seems so shallow and contrived – but it matters. Who “connects” better? Who would you rather hang out with? A lot of times, that’s who you vote for. It’s all an illusion, of course – only the tiniest fraction of people actually KNOW presidential candidates. A slightly larger percentage know Congressional candidates but the bottom line is, how likeable a candidate appears to be is a determining factor for many voters. Obama had it in spades. Matheson ran “You know me” ads and worked to portray his opponent as someone NOT likeable – because it matters.

5. Messaging matters. “Legitimate rape,” anyone? The limited-government, pro-family, pro-freedom platform of the Republican party is a good one. It carries broad appeal, but we lose the messaging war time after time after time. We seem to forget that all politics is personal. Every voter wants to know why it should matter to THEM. From top to bottom, politics is personal. Why should I care? How does this affect me? How does this affect my family? My friend John English put it well: “The GOP needs to resist the urge of demographic pandering but more importantly, they need to stamp out the appearance of demographic dismissal. Saying “Oh, single women voted 67% for Obama? Eh, they just want big government as their sugar daddy” will do nothing to leave the door open to sway single women in the future.”

We can – and we must – learn the lessons of the 2012 election cycle or be prepared to keep losing races we “should” win.


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10 Responses to “What mattered in the 2012 election cycle”

  1. beckypir Says:

    Excellent analysis.

  2. Rod Mann Says:

    Great observations Holly!

  3. markg91359 Says:

    I don’t disagree with your five points. However, I think it is foolish for the GOP to think that their positions on issues played no role in the poor outcome of this election. The defeat was the result of more than just the way the message was presented and how the campaign was run.

    I talked to minorities who are legal citizens of this country who felt very put off by all the rhetoric coming from Romney and others calling for self deportation. I talked to women who would never have an abortion who believe the GOP should stop putting opposition to all abortion in the party platform.

    Many others were put off by Romney never e

  4. Rod Mann Says:

    One item of disagreement Holly, I believe it is human nature to want to blame others for failure, not a trait unique to members of any specific party.

  5. hollyonthehill Says:

    Rod, you are right about that. It is a fairly universal immediate response. I just think that the GOP is slower to learn from losses than the D’s seem to be…..

  6. hollyonthehill Says:

    Mark, I agree with you. In fact, those very things were in my original post but it got so wordy I had to cut it in half. Watch for tomorrow’s post…..

  7. Tami Fillmore Says:

    ” Times, they are a’changing, and just like 2008, the Democrats are catching the wave of the future while Republicans are wondering what hit them.”. This statement doesn’t just refer to the way the republicans campaign but also to the way they cling so tightly to the old way of doing things and seem to be so very resistant to change, even when it is clear that change is the only constant and usually does us all a world of good. One example, Mitts statement in the second debate as he stared into the camera and spoke slowly, “I love coal” pretty much made it impossible for me to check the box by his name. It spoke clearly to the republicans unwillingness to “catch the wave of the future.”

  8. jbtalcott Says:

    What mattered most in this national election was the effects of the Republican Party moving to the extreme right for the past two decades have come home to roost. A politician like Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have gotten any farther than Jon Huntsman in this year’s republican primary. A majority of American’s do not subscribe to the extremist views and policies espoused by those on the far right.

    The good news for Democrats is that there are factions in the Republican party wearing blinders who are convinced the Republican’s lost big because they were not “conservative enough”.

  9. A Democratic Lovefest: Thoughts on the Senate District 2 Debate | Publius Online Says:

    […] What mattered in the 2012 election cycle (hollyonthehill.com) […]

  10. Richard Warnick Says:

    Romney was thoroughly unlikeable, true, but the real kicker was when we found out in a video that he didn’t like us, the voters. President Obama is poised to cut the middle-class safety net to fund tax cuts for the rich, but he’ll get away with it because a lot of Americans are convinced he’s on our side.

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