Lessons Learned
What can we learn from Election 2012? Some reflections

A victorious President Obama, November 7, 2012


In essence, we must become a missionary force in our own culture. We can’t outsource cultural transformation to even the most charismatic politician. Our liberal friends don’t read our websites, watch our television, or listen to our radio, but perhaps they’ll listen to the neighbor who brought them a hot meal when their mother was sick, or to the co-worker who stayed late to help them meet an urgent deadline.

At the risk of lurching from geekery (the Game of Thrones reference above) to the trite, I’m reminded of the somewhat silly, yet also profound, “Southwest [Airlines] Way” — where employees are asked to demonstrate a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, and a fun-loving attitude. In true conservative spirit, we can learn a lot from the culture of one of America’s most successful businesses. After all, as Ronald Reagan understands better than anyone, there’s no warrior quite as effective as the happy warrior.

— David French is co-founder of Evangelicals for Mitt.

After President George H. W. Bush led the nation to victory in the 1991 Gulf War, some Republicans thought that they would get a political bonanza. Representative Mickey Edwards (R., Okla.) was skeptical. Warning against “our own tendency to engage in wishful thinking,” he said: “The fact is, voters think what they think, not what we want them to think.” Bush’s 1992 defeat confirmed the wisdom of that observation.

It’s even wiser today. During the 2012 campaign, conservatives and Republicans generally fell prey to wishful thinking. We often heard that beating President Obama would be a cinch if only the GOP had the right message and messenger. As I wrote here in September, it was never going to be a cinch. Incumbent presidents are hard to beat, especially when the economy is growing, albeit slowly.

In the future, we have to pay attention even when the polls tell us things we don’t like.

But just as we have to guard against wishful thinking, we also have to beware the current temptation to despair. Yes, President Obama won a victory, but he barely topped a majority of the popular vote, and his share of the electoral vote was actually below average for a winning candidate. Republicans held the House, where they will serve as a check on the president.

Thank you, James Madison.

—  John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

The 2012 election both was sobering for conservatives and provides a path forward.

First, voters of faith turned out in record numbers, and they voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney. Conservative Christians made up 29 percent of the electorate and voted 80 percent for Mitt Romney and only 19 percent for Barack Obama. Evangelicals turned out in the largest numbers ever recorded in a modern presidential election and voted as heavily for Romney as they did for George W. Bush, a fellow evangelical. Few would have predicted that outcome even a few months ago. Faithful Mass-attending Catholics made up another 10 percent of the electorate, and they voted 67 percent for Romney and only 32 percent for Obama. These two groups — faithful Catholics and evangelicals — gave Romney 59.7 percent of all the votes he received.

But it wasn’t enough. Romney underperformed with younger voters, Hispanics, Asians, single women, and African-Americans. Given the increasing diversity of the country and the demographic realities of a majority-minority population by the year 2050, Republicans must do better among these non-traditional voting groups.

The good news is that many of them share our conservative principles. According to a post-election survey by Public Opinion Strategies, for example, 32 percent of Hispanic voters identify themselves as evangelicals or conservative Christians. The next GOP presidential nominee must win at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Adding entrepreneurial Hispanics and women who own their own small businesses to the one-third of Latinos who are conservative Christians would add approximately 4 percent to the national popular vote for a conservative candidate.

We must not surrender our core conservative principles. But we must recruit and run candidates who can appeal to voters who ve not always felt welcome in our ranks. That work begins now.

― Ralph Reed is president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. 


Romney lost because of Obama’s dominance in the ad wars (in terms both of number of ads aired and their effectiveness in moving the vote) and the far more sophisticated and effective GOTV efforts on the Left.

The crafts of campaigns and campaigning, argument and persuasion, are currently driven on our side by static microtargeting models, good storytelling, and political palm-reading done with dials and polls and robo-calls instead of solid, thoughtful science.

Voting is an act born not of cost-benefit analysis but primarily of social motivations. And, as I’ve written before, with great anxiety, Progressives understand this, have studied this seriously, and have worked hard to perfect the science and art of persuasion and turnout.

The conservative/free-market movement and the Republican party need to take social science seriously and catch up as quickly as possible on this front.

It won’t be easy; Progressives have a huge reservoir of social/behavioral scientists who can move back and forth between academia and politics. We don’t, so we will have to do more with less as we build our capacities.

Here’s what we need to do:

1. Experiments, experiments, experiments. And I mean careful randomized, controlled experiments and serious analysis of the data. Message experiments within online surveys, big data experiments online, field experiments, and blended online/field experiments. Big ones, small ones, simple and complicated. Test everything. Testing isn’t an add-on or a luxury, it is a necessity. We need to move from the Era of Gurus into the Era of Science.

2. Identify young social scientists to recruit to our causes and encourage and support graduate education in political psychology/behavior, psychology, etc.

3. Don’t write off the American public. I’ve heard a lot of despair and bitterness about the fact that voters returned Obama to the White House. We can’t give up on our country. The answer is to work harder, to work smarter, to explain more effectively what’s right and why, and to make sure every last voter on our side goes out and votes. Every time.

— Adam Schaeffer is co-founder and director of research at Evolving Strategies.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Despite my prediction earlier this week that the War on Women narrative would backfire and the GOP would increase its margin of the female vote, the election was a disaster when it came to women.