If you had told me the day before the election that Mitt Romney would win independents by five, convincingly win among all voters making more than $50,000 per year, and that evangelicals would vote for Mitt by wider margins than they did for even George W. Bush, I would have assumed he’d be on the path to victory. He wasn’t. As the messaging and tactical second-guessing begins (and it began even before Fox made its Ohio call Tuesday night), we have to be clear-eyed about our challenge: To tens of millions of American voters, a conservative message of self-reliance and individual economic freedom is, quite frankly, terrifying.
First, each of Obama’s core constituencies (single women, African-Americans, and Latinos) is seriously — and disproportionately — economically disadvantaged compared to the classic paradigm of the white, college-educated Republican voter. The rates of poverty and near-poverty among these groups are much greater, thus causing a critical mass of both populations to suffer — even if they’re technically middle class — from a greater degree of economic insecurity. Even as Mitt won the votes of those who make over $50,000 by nine points, Obama won those who make less by a whopping 22 points — enough to give him the victory.
Third, this statist outlook is relentlessly reinforced in a news and pop-culture bubble that conservatives simply aren’t penetrating. If you check out this chart (from Buzzfeed), you’ll note the obvious truth that not only do conservatives and liberals read different publications, but even “moderates” read disproportionately liberal publications (which is perhaps one reason why “moderates” are really less-liberal liberals and not less-conservative conservatives). Within this liberal bubble, it is simply conventional wisdom that conservatives not only don’t care about those less fortunate but that we will even promote human suffering if it means higher profit margins and more cash in our pockets. In other words, we can change our messaging on Fox News, talk radio, and even our primaries all we want, but it won’t make a dime’s bit of difference to this decisive economic constituency. We might laugh at Obama choosing the “Pimp With a Limp” and Us Weekly over Meet the Press, but he’s simply reaching more potential voters through those outlets.
To understand the scale of our communications and persuasion challenge, remember that Republicans have now lost five of the last six popular votes for president, with our last convincing wins occurring well before the advent of our vaunted new media — back when the MSM was the only game in town. Recent conservative “wave” elections have only occurred during off-years (1994 and 2010) when the electorate is tens of millions of voters smaller than it is in presidential years. Simply put, the larger the potential electorate, the worse we tend to do. You see this even in polls, where conservatives do worse with registered voters than likely voters and worse with adults than with registered voters.
We have the better message. Now we have to make sure our fellow citizens see it as empowering, not terrifying.