The oligarchy is insatiable in its greed. Since 1980, they have enjoyed enormous gains in wealth at the expense of everyone else. In doing so, they were aided by both Republican and Democratic parties but in order to preserve any credibility with its base, the Democratic party had to oppose some of the more obvious money-grabs, such as more tax cuts for the rich or the gutting of regulatory agencies or the elimination of social safety nets such as health care, minimum wage laws, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
But the oligarchy clearly chafed at even these minor impediments to its greed. But even they were aware that the demographics of the country are changing, with the older white male electorate shrinking. It seems clear that the oligarchy felt that the recent election presented them with what might be their last and best chance to win the presidency and control of both houses of Congress, who would give them everything they wanted. With the House, Senate, and presidency in their hands, they could cement in place oligarchic-friendly policies so that future presidents and congresses would have a hard time reversing those gains even if they wanted to. Hence they poured money into the election in unprecedented amounts to elect Republicans.
This also explains the strategy of the Romney campaign. It seems clear that they sought to drive up their share of the older, white, rural, and male element of the electorate by stoking their anger by adopting the Tea Party message that they were losing ‘their’ country to those not like them, while suppressing that of the urban, young, poor, female, and minorities by placing hurdles to their voting, aided by Republican election officials in key states like Ohio and Florida and Pennsylvania.
The first part of that strategy seems to have partly succeeded. Rich Yeselson says that Romney carried the white male base in a 65-32% landslide and the white vote of those over 65 by 61-39%, an increase over John McCain’s performance in 2008.
But that gain was not as much as they had hoped for (more on why that happened in a future post) to overcome the failure of the voter suppression part, as the Pew exit poll survey suggests that the percentage of young and female and minority voters stayed the same or slightly increased in 2012 over 2008.
The Rasmussen polling organization, one of the outfits that predicted a Romney victory, tried to explain why they got it wrong,
A preliminary review indicates that one reason for this is that we underestimated the minority share of the electorate. In 2008, 26% of voters were non-white. We expected that to remain relatively constant. However, in 2012, 28% of voters were non-white. That was exactly the share projected by the Obama campaign. It is not clear at the moment whether minority turnout increased nationally, white turnout decreased, or if it was a combination of both. The increase in minority turnout has a significant impact on the final projections since Romney won nearly 60% of white votes while Obama won an even larger share of the minority vote.
Another factor may be related to the generation gap. It is interesting to note that the share of seniors who showed up to vote was down slightly from 2008 while the number of young voters was up slightly. Pre-election data suggested that voters over 65 were more enthusiastic about voting than they had been four years earlier so the decline bears further examination.
In fact, despite the voter suppression efforts, minority participation at the polls actually increased, especially in Ohio and Florida where the suppression efforts were the greatest. What could have caused that?
Andrew Cohen suggests that trying to suppress the vote of certain groups backfired for the Romney campaign, with those voters actually becoming even more determined to vote.
If there is one thing this election has proven, if there is one thing I have come to know, it is that Americans don’t like it when their right to vote is threatened. The very people whose votes the Republicans sought to suppress came out to vote. In places like Akron and Orlando and Denver and Milwaukee, they came. They waited in long lines and endured the indignities of poll workers. Yet they were not cowed. Today is their day. A day when they can look at one another and appreciate that they are truly a part of the history of civil rights in this country.
Humorist Andy Cobb finds the same phenomenon in my neck of the woods, Cuyahoga County in Ohio, where people seemed determined to stand in line in cold weather for hours just to vote, making it into a kind of community solidarity event.
One hopes that one of the lessons that the Republican party learns from their debacle is that its despicable practice of trying to suppress voters is counter-productive. As Cohen advises:
Having covered for the past two years the voting rights front in this epic election cycle, I have come to believe that the Republicans will begin to win presidential elections again only when they start competing for votes with the substance of their ideas. Instead of legislating on the theory that some people are too poor or too old or too lazy to vote, and for all their talk about freedom and the Tea Party, they should try to find ways to encourage the franchise in America, to nurture and protect it.
Rather than trying to suppress the voting of those they think do not agree with them, Republicans would do well to broaden their appeal by welcoming others into the fold. But how can they do that unless they also change their message? And how can they change their message when for the last few decades they have been drilling into the heads of their voting base that young, female, minority, gay, and poor people are immoral moochers who are trying to take the country (and its wealth) away from ‘true’, god-fearing Americans?
The next few years will be interesting to observe as they try to thread that needle.