Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's Arithmetic, Stupid

Former President Bill Clinton speaks to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on September 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
When Bill Clinton announced he was running for president on October 3, 1991, George H.W. Bush was enjoying an approval rating of 65% according to Gallup. At the time, it seemed highly unlikely that a governor of a small state who bombed his national debut as keynote speaker at the 1988 Democrat convention could beat such a popular incumbent. But he did. Following the election, Clinton's political strategists James Carville explained the campaign's strategy with one (now famous) sentence: "It's the economy, stupid".

As the 2012 general election got underway, the Romney team believed that this year would be a repeat of 1992. Actually, that's not correct. Initially, the Romney team thought that Obama was the new Carter and the election would be 1980 revisited.  The Romney camp repeatedly asked the electorate "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

But somewhere along the way the "better off" question was quietly dropped by the Romney campaign. Probably because they didn't like the answer they were getting. Especially in Ohio. So Boston changed course and adopted "It's the economy, stupid". Except it wasn't.

Once again it was Bill Clinton who understood what this election was about: arithmetic. During his speech at the Democrat Convention, the old master shredded Romney's economic plan. He detailed how Romney's tax and spending proposals just did not add up. They are just not enough "loopholes" to make up for all the lost revenue due to tax cuts and increased military spending Romney proposed.  "It is arithmetic", Clinton said.

After the election it has been widely reported that Romney was shellshocked by his loss. Again, all he had to do is look at the electoral math. Obama maintained an electoral college count  (no tossups) around 300 for months. The race was very stable. Yes, even after his much panned debate performance, Obama hovered around 300 electoral votes. And 300 is more than the 270 needed to win the presidency. It is arithmetic.

Another indication that Romney was on track to lose was the early vote. The Obama campaign was banking healthy margins in Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Florida forcing Romney to have to perform extremely well on election day to make up for the lost ground and win. The data was available for all to see. All the Romney camp had to do was to apply arithmetic.

But the GOP was not the only party that was mathematically challenged. The same is true for the Libertarian party. Former governor Gary Johnson had more executive experience than both Romney and Obama. He had the best job creation record. About 40% of the electorate identified itself as independent. All the ingredients were there for the LP to make a strong showing.

Unfortunately, the Johnson campaign pinned all their hopes on wooing Ron Paul voters. A quick look at the math would have told the Johnson strategists that Ron Paul supporters would never deliver the 15% in the polls needed for their candidate to participate in the presidential debates. It would not even deliver the 5% needed to begin challenging the duopoly.

In the 2012 Republican primaries, Ron Paul received 2,017,957 votes. That represents 1.5% of the 2008 total votes cast in the general election or 131,240,456. The final vote count for 2012 is not in but so far 123,137,099 votes have been recorded. Again, the Ron Paul primary vote only represent 1.6% of the general election. Well short of 5% and miles away from the 15% needed to be included in the debates.

As Clinton would say, "It is arithmetic."