President Obama just won a surprisingly big Electoral College victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but though the polls were very tight for quite a while, this outcome should have been foreseen earlier. Here are the four most important factors, in my view.
More voters thought the economy was improving than thought things were getting worse. The president got a huge shot in the arm when official unemployment fell below 8% and when job growth trended higher in the last couple of months before the election. Along with a sudden recovery in housing and stronger consumer sentiment, that fit the president’s narrative that things were getting better, even if unemployment remained high.
The auto bailout won the Upper Midwest. The president’s rescue of General Motors and Chrysler using TARP funds may have saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan, Ohio and other Rust Belt states. The president’s skilled handling of that “bailout” and the subsequent profitability of the two companies is considered one of his administration’s big successes. In contrast with Mitt Romney’s opposition to government funding of the two troubled car companies and his scrambling on the subject late in the campaign, it clearly helped the president carry the key state of Ohio, as well as neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan.
The killing of Osama bin Laden took national security off the table. Usually Democrats get tarred as the party that’s weak on defense. But the president’s steely pursuit and dispatch of America’s Public Enemy Number One earned him enormous credibility with the public. So, when the furor erupted over the storming of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the criticisms didn’t stick, because unlike with Jimmy Carter, the public didn’t think President Obama was a weak leader on national security.
Team Obama invested early and wisely. The president’s reelection campaign spent tens of millions of dollars building massive voter databases and big organizations in the key states. They also spent millions attacking Mitt Romney during the summer. They were criticized for both these things while the Romney campaign and its heavily funded SuperPAC supporters saved their fire for the last few weeks of the campaign. But the Obama campaign had an organization that Romney couldn’t match and they defined Romney early before campaign fatigue and information overload gave late ads diminishing returns.
Finally, the majority of voters in key swing states concluded that the president’s performance was good enough (and he himself was likeable enough) to deserve another term and that Romney didn’t cross the high threshold of replacing an incumbent president who had actually gotten a few things done. From that are big Electoral College victories made.
Also read: Four Reasons Why Romney Lost