President Obama has won re-election in a sweep that ended the night before the count was completed in two key battleground states, Florida and Virginia. By holding the “Midwest firewall” — including Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the president handily defeated his challenger.
His victory comes despite the desultory state of the economy. President Obama lost ground in almost all demographic groups — whites, women and men, independents and even young people.
But even those losses were not enough to knock him from the presidency, and part of that, according to Andrew Kohut, president of Pew Research Center, had to do with likability. More Americans have a favorable opinion of the president than of Romney. About 10 percent more believe Obama is in touch with them than is his Republican challenger.
Though the president has won the electoral numbers, it is not yet clear whether he will win the popular vote. There may be automatic recounts in Ohio and Florida, because the margins were so thin. Still, if trends continue, the president is likely to win the popular vote as well.
“The most surprising thing was the move toward the president was as distinctive as it was in the final days of the campaign,” NPR political editor Ron Elving said.
In recent days, polls showed Obama gaining momentum in battleground states. And if trends hold, it is possible that the president will win all eight of the battleground states.
How The Vote Fell
In the final moments of the race, each candidate had advantages and disadvantages.
Gov. Romney had a clear edge among men, especially white working class men who make up much of the vote in battleground states such as Ohio and Wisconsin. He led among older voters, as well as independents, though by smaller margins that polls during the campaign indicated. Independents have voted Republican in every presidential race since 1952, with the exception of 1964 (Johnson v. Goldwater) and 2008, when Obama swept them in a wave of hope and change.
The president, however, had plenty of arrows in his quiver. After cooling to him last month, women voters have come roaring back to the president’s side. Minorities — and especially Latinos, who factor large in swing states such as Florida, Colorado, and Nevada — were firmly in the president’s camp. One big trend in this campaign was the strong turnout among Latinos. Young people are also loyal to the president, although not quite as enthusiastically as in 2008.
Ups And Downs
If the presidential race had people on pins and needles, it wasn’t that way six months ago. Democrats said they were disappointed with Obama’s performance, smarting from the desultory economy, and frustrated that he seemed to have forgotten the poor in favor of the middle class. Republicans, too, were tepid about their candidate. In fact, until springtime, evangelicals, who make up a large part of the Republican base, flirted with a number of candidates whose chief characteristic seemed to be that they were not Mitt Romney.
But the past two months turned into a “roller coaster ride,” said political analyst Larry Sabato says. Each candidate made strategic errors.
The first bit of excitement arrived in mid-September, in the form of a leaked tape of Romney saying that 47 percent of Americans “will vote for the president no matter what,” are “dependent upon government, who believe they are victims” and do not pay taxes.
But then, two weeks later, Obama stumbled throughout the first debate. The president looked like a boxer on the ropes taking blows from an aggressive Romney; he even failed to land a punch on Romney with an attack on Romney’s 47 percent comment. This erased the president’s yawning lead in the polls, and we had a horse race.
“Before the first debate, President Obama was on his way to a landslide re-election victory,” says Thomas Riehl, a senior vice president of YouGov, an online polling firm. But after the debate, not only were Obama supporters deflated, but independents and undecided voters took a hard look at Romney — and liked what they saw.
“What Romney accomplished in the first debate was that he stood up on a stage with President Obama and made it clear he was at least his equal,” Riehl says. “You could imagine a Romney presidency, and there wasn’t much that was very threatening about that.”
For the first time, more people told pollsters they would vote for Romney and not just against Obama. According to polls by Pew Research, 36 percent of likely voters said they had a better opinion of Romney after the debate, and his favorability rating shot up to 50 percent — about the same as the president.
But Romney’s good fortunes were arrested by the weather. Hurricane Sandy served as a circuit breaker that cut into whatever momentum Romney had generated.
“This was kind of an October surprise,” says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University. “It gave the president an opportunity to act presidential, to act like a commander in chief.”
As Obama visited devastated parts of New Jersey and New York — as he received glowing praise from New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, and then an endorsement from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — Romney was forced to the sidelines, at least temporarily. Those television shots of the president impressed voters: The Pew poll found that nearly seven in 10 likely voters — and 63 percent of swing voters — approved of the way the president handled the disaster.