Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid

How Romney and Ryan alienated average Americans.

By - Nov 9th, 2012 07:30 am
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On election day morning, the bell rang and there was yet another volunteer for Barack Obama reminding me to vote. It was probably the fifth time in recent months that an Obama volunteer had stopped by to chat up me or my wife. I was starting to think they might move in with us.

The explanations for Obama’s victory are many, but arguably begin with his superior ground game. I was actually contacted many more times by Mitt Romney’s campaign, as my Democratic-leaning zipcode includes many wealthy Republicans. But it was all old-school stuff: I was showered with Romney mailers and literature and robocalls, but received almost none of this from Obama. Romney’s old-fashioned, top-down style of campaigning seemed to echo his proposed economic policies

Recent research has found that blanketing a neighborhood with campaign literature has no impact and that automated calls generate one vote per 900 calls. By contrast, one study found Obama’s network of small, inexpensive field offices made a one percentage point difference in his national vote in 2008. In key states like Ohio, Obama had a huge advantage over Romney in field offices.

It was a smarter campaign that also had the edge in social networking: by late October, Obama had more than 31 million “likes” on Facebook and some 21 million Twitter followers compared to just under 11 million Facebook likes and 1.6 million Twitter followers for Romney.

Yes, all of this makes Romney look as outdated as his gosh and golly style of speaking, but it’s not the major reason he lost. On paper, he was the nightmare opponent for Obama, a successful businessman promising more jobs running against a president struggling mightily to improve the economy. But Romney’s central message was overshadowed by all the positions he was forced to take by the Republican primary and all the crazy Republican senatorial candidate comments on abortion and rape he couldn’t condemn.

Thus, the once-moderate Massachusetts governor had to repudiate his own health care plan. Oppose a one dollar increase in taxes in exchange for nine dollars in spending cuts. Condemn higher taxes for the wealthy. Support voucherizing Medicare. Take a hard line against abortion, even when the health of the mother is in danger. Support a state and private- sector takeover of FEMA, which looked heartless as Hurricane Sandy pummeled America.

True, Romney reinforced the story line with gaffe after gaffe. His comment that those who can’t afford college should just borrow money from their parents made his opposition to increasing Pell grants look particularly clueless. And his infamous comment that 47 percent of Americans feel entitled to federal help buttressed the narrative of Mitt as someone who doesn’t care about the middle class.

But the bigger problem was the hard-right party and platform he represented, all given a steelier edge with his choice of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as vice-president. One analysis of Ryan’s voting record found he was the least centrist member of Congress chosen for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900.

Ryan’s vaunted budget plan combines a massive, $4 trillion spending cut in countless federal programs benefitting average Americans, generous new tax cuts for the wealthy and tax hikes for low-income folks. It slashes federal spending on both Medicare and Medicaid, which besides its payments to low-income people, is a major funder of long-term care and nursing homes for the elderly. Not surprisingly, Ryan gets just a six percent positive ranking from the Alliance for Retired Americans.

With Ryan as running mate, it became all the more difficult for Romney to be about jobs and the economy. Late in the campaign, as Romney attempted to move more toward the middle, Ryan was suddenly spending less time in swing states and assigned to campaign fund-raisers in red states.

There is little evidence Ryan did anything even to help Romney in Wisconsin. The seven point victory margin for Obama in this state is actually higher than what polls showed before Ryan was selected.  Wisconsin has less college educated and far more manufacturing workers than the average state; polls show they supported the auto industry bailout and clearly didn’t feel Romney-Ryan cared as much about the middle class as Obama-Biden.

There will be lots of talk about Ryan for president it 2016, but it is arguably another rising star from Wisconsin, Scott Walker, whose pitch to reduce government benefits has more appeal to the American middle class than Ryan’s gutting of federal entitlements.

Meanwhile, we should not lose sight of this nation making history again by reelecting an African American for president. Second terms can often lose momentum, but they can also provide the chance to achieve a Mount Rushmore-like standing. And Barack Obama has repeatedly proven he has the smarts and steely discipline needed to seize such opportunities.

This column was first published by the Madison weekly Isthmus. 

Short Take

-For another view: Longtime reporter Jack Norman offers some jaw-dropping stats showing more than 80 percent of Obama’s margin came from the City of Milwaukee, showing just how effective Obama’s ground game was. It reveals that the rest of the state was almost evenly divided and also suggests Obama’s coat-tails carried Tammy Baldwin to victory.

6 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: It’s the Middle Class, Stupid”

  1. tim haering says:

    I love Ryan, or as I now call him, Mini Mitt, but you’re right about the Obama ground game. Ryan WAS Romney’s ground game. But they sent him to commercial doors, more bang for the buck than residential doors – more people at convention centers and airport hangars. Maybe they figured Republican and persuadable voters don’t like being bothered at home. I voted for Johnson, as any non-Obama vote is a waste here in CA. But I”d vote for Mini Mitt for President, wouldn’t you? Think Romney would have had a chance if he self-funded? Have a swell weeknd!

  2. Stacy Moss says:

    I don’t feel like Obama won.

    A candidate for president who ran against modern science but didn’t stand for anything for more than ten minutes got nearly half the vote. The two parties ended up paying 600$ for each undecided vote. And Obama ended up with about 10% less votes than last time, less than George Bush got in 2004.

    The war against my sanity still rages on.

  3. Ed Werstein says:

    I don’t think Romney could have built a comparable ground game, even if he had had that strategy. I’m going to generalize, but I think fewer Republicans tend to be of the activist ilk. I don’t see them as a bunch of door bangers.

  4. ddddd says:

    Amen to the critique of flyers and phone calls. In my small town north of Madison, I must have received about 20 flyers from the Republican party in the last week alone, most of them simply messages against Tammy Baldwin. I vote split ticket, and these annoying flyers helped me choose to vote for Tammy. I’m exceptionally glad that we dropped our land phone line about a year ago and completely avoided calls.

    Republicans in particular (but also a few Democrats) seem to have no idea that traditional media methods like flyers, phone calls and TV ads are completely ineffective for a younger generation. I’m in my 40′s but even I communicate more and more by social media and texting. With DVRs and other recording services, everyone my age or younger skips over the TV ads. I am no longer listed in the phone book and am very careful in giving out my cell number.

  5. Bill Sweeney says:

    There were also Romney’s remarks on universal health care which meant for him that anyone who did not have health insurance could always call an ambulance and go to an ER to see a doctor. It is stunning how ignorant this remark is and it reveals how out of touch he is with what is a central concern for people living on middle to low incomes

  6. SirCharles says:

    Get over it Republican… you weren’t whining and crying when Bush had us in two wars!!!

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