McCain beats Romney? Stop the stupidity!

There is a very dangerous and stupid analysis floating around the Republican blogosphere that goes something like this:  John McCain got 2 million more votes that Mitt Romney.  How can this be?  Either Romney was a terrible candidate – unable to win even all of the McCain voters from 2008, or evangelical Christians refused to vote for a Mormon, or we just experienced voter fraud on a scale never before imagined.

Stop it.

Stop it for two reasons.  One, Republicans are in danger of blaming everything but the real reason they lost the election.  Two, they’re at the risk of sounding nutty.

Mitt Romney was an excellent candidate.  His defeat was due to exactly two things: one, an effective Barack Obama ad campaign that successfully painted Romney as a heartless robber baron who didn’t respect women (hurting him in Ohio and Pennsylvania), and two, the changing social mores of a society that is simply no longer socially conservative in the main (hurting him in Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire).

In a previous blog post, I took on the McCain beats Romney theory and pointed out that while turnout was down nationwide by about 8 percent, turnout in most of the battleground states was virtually unchanged.

Since the McCain beats Romney theory is still very much alive, and because my previous analysis was based on incomplete election returns, I thought it was time to update my turnout map.  Incidentally, the more-complete (but still not complete) election data indicates the turnout drop from 2008 nationwide is about 6.75% (about 9 million votes).  Of that total, President Obama got 7.4 million fewer votes than in 2008.  It is true that McCain got more votes than Romney – but the difference is now just 1.2 million votes (and falling).

Where was turnout depressed?  Here’s the update (with one major correction – I discovered an error on Wikipedia’s 2008 Colorado totals, which were higher than in my initial data set):

Voter turnout: 2012 vs. 2008. States in green increased in turnout from 2008. Turnout fell < 5% in blue states, 5-10% in orange states, and >10% in red states. Nationally, there was ~6.75% drop.

The updated figures only reinforce my previous conclusion: while you might blame the Romney campaign for failing to excite voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Hampshire, you cannot say the same thing for the battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, where turnouts were higher than 2008.  Something is going on in the Midwest “rust belt” states, clearly, though note there is no perfect relationship between turnout and the winner.  Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were Romney disappointments, but West Virginia and Indiana went for Romney in a big way, with Romney’s lead over President Obama about 10 percentage points greater in both states than the differential in the McCain-Obama contest.

More to the point, though, while Mitt Romney did earn less votes than John McCain, almost all of those votes were in two states: California and New York!  By my current accounting – the final numbers will no doubt be a little different – John McCain earned 1,171,230 votes more than Mitt Romney.  But check this out: McCain earned 1,027,896 more votes than Mitt Romney in California alone.  He earned 526,091 more votes in New York.  That’s the entire magnitude of difference, and then some.  Why “and then some”?  Because Mitt Romney earned more votes than John McCain in 30 of 50 states.  Many of those states were election-critical states, and in 7 of the states that he didn’t earn more votes than McCain, he beat President Obama anyway.

Here’s a graphical representation of the vacuousness of the McCain beats Romney thesis:

McCain v. Romney

A state-by-state comparison of vote totals for John McCain (2008) and Mitt Romney (2012). States in green were states in which Romney earned more votes than McCain.

McCain blasted Romney in McCain’s home state of Arizona (beating Romney by 158,554 votes).  Being on the West Coast may have also suppressed turnout generally – President Obama was also well short of his 2008 total there (165,352 fewer votes).  That’s right, even where Mitt Romney “lost” 150,000 votes to John McCain, he beat his opponent by 1.8 more percentage points.  Ditto California, where Romney’s loss to President Obama was 3.1 percentage points fewer than McCain’s loss to Candidate Obama.  In New York, Romney’s loss was also slightly narrower than McCain’s loss there.

In fact, if I were to make the equivalent graphic for President Obama – comparing his 2012 vote totals to his 2008 vote totals – only two states would be colored green.  One of those is a battleground state – North Carolina, though it is one he lost because Romney did much better than McCain did there (gaining 147,379 votes).  The other is Louisiana.  In every other state, the President received fewer votes (pending the final vote totals, of course.)

A similar story would be told for the red and orange states above.  Romney has two states in red (at least half a million votes fewer than 2008’s total for McCain) and two in orange (100,000 – 500,000 fewer).  The President would have three states in the red (California, New York, and Illinois) and twelve states in orange (Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Washington, Arizona, Tennessee, Oregon, and Maryland).  Many of those are safe states for one side or the other, but Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio – where the President lost 358,000 votes or more in each – Indiana, Missouri, and Arizona stand out as key states going forward.

In terms of margin of victory, the President increased his advantage in 4 states: Alaska (where his loss was 8.1 percentage points narrower), New Jersey (increasing his win 1.6 percentage points), Louisiana (1.3 point narrower defeat), and Mississippi (1.1 points narrower).  He didn’t lose any ground in New York.  But in 45 states, Mitt Romney’s win over President Obama was greater or his loss narrower than the equivalent differential between John McCain and President Obama.

With all of this information, though, Mitt Romney’s losses in Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada just seem all the more perplexing.  In those states, all of the following was true:

  • Turnout was high
  • Mitt Romney did considerably better than John McCain
  • The President did poorer in 2012 than he had done in 2008

The analysis is a little more complex in states like New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but even in those states, at least some of the above factors were present.

Definitively, though, we can stop this nonsense that Mitt Romney somehow lost the John McCain voters in any way that could have reasonably explained his failure to defeat the incumbent.  There’s simply no evidence for this idea.  Worse, it will distract Republicans from the true lessons of the election.  Indeed, one could even find these data quite encouraging – if there hadn’t been so many forecasts of a Republican win (only among Republicans, by the way, including me) – the election could rightly be seen as an electorate moving back to the right from as far left as it had swung in 2008.

Crucially, Republicans have made gains in the Midwest.  If it is true that Republicans are sliding among the Latino population – and I believe this is true, and should be rectified if at all possible – then Republicans would do well to become competitive in states where the Latino population isn’t increasing as rapidly.  Texas will be safe for some time, and California will be out of the realm of possibility for some time – but the upper Midwest and the rust belt, where the Latino population increase is small – may be coming back into play for Republicans.  Of course, Republicans should better-appeal to Latinos, and one place to start might be Florida, where this election gave some encouraging signs and where Latinos have been most-friendly to Republicans thanks to the Cuban population and the recent Republican Senators of Latino heritage (Marco Rubio and Mel Martinez, not to mention Governor Bob Martinez).



  1. Meredith Kelley · · Reply

    Great post. I can’t believe people are even attempting to make the argument that McCain beat Romney. Obama won by MUCH wider margins in nearly all the states he took in 2008 than in 2012. While overall turn out may be slightly down from 2008, margin of victory was slimmer for Obama this year. Maybe that’s a sign of people coming to their senses that Obama is not the answer for America? We can hope.

    1. It is at least one good sign in an otherwise disappointing election cycle. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Your logic is always refreshing and this is no exception. I’ve said it before, and I’m not sure if I said it here before but I will now: I think a big part of the problem is that our youth do not know the true meaning of being American. A lot of bad parents failed their kids, and thus, failed the nation. These kids have no clue of our history and the price paid for our freedoms. Or for that matter, the alternative, which is communism. They don’t know what that means either.

    On that note, I think the Republican party needs a face lift. Instead of focusing so much on issues that cannot be resolved at this time (like abortion), they should focus more on the whole meaning of patriotism. Most people in this country who voted for Obama have no clue they voted for a President that was endorsed in both elections by the Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America (the largest socialist organization in the United States). Some of those folks are even on Obama’s staff in cabinet positions.

    These kids don’t know it can be “cool” to be a patriot. Patriots are rebels, kids are rebels. They are not that far apart. That’s one theory.

    As for Hispanics, like most, I have no problem with legal immigration. The problem is, it is so difficult to obtain legal status in this country. We personally know a couple who has had to deal with this hurdle. He is American, she is trying to become one. The financial cost is very high, much more than your average immigrant can muster. Then we also need to shore up our border, because lets face it: We do NOT want the desperados of Mexico’s criminal element. We want decent hard working folks.

    I don’t know Professor, I don’t have the answers, I’m just pondering a few thoughts. Great analysis as always though, well done.

    1. Thank you very much for the feedback. In some sense Republicans should be the party of immigrants – I find that recent immigrants often understand the idea of America better than the youth, as you say.

      1. I agree. Hispanics are traditional in their values. I think it would behoove Republicans to aid in passing legislation that would make it more realistic for Hispanics who are NOT criminals to become citizens.

        As for the youth, I think we just saw Bart Simpson and Southpark vote with the aid of Twitter.

        These shows and others like them, have been on for the past two decades. They represent the culture from the eighties onwards. They appeal to the kids, and have for many years, because they mock everything their parents stand for, and so they appeal to the rebel in the young ones. I remember when I was younger, I didn’t go to bed worrying about my country. And my parents were a joke to me.

        The kids raised on these shows and in that culture, are now approaching thirty. They have voted in the past two elections. Perhaps better said, most of are old enough to have done so.

        Young people have a whole different perspective. If you take the massive numbers who have been raised with no concept of American values, what freedom means, what it costs, and what it means to lose it, you have a large segment of the voting block that just voted for a communist president.

        I’m not old, but I am old enough to know we failed these kids, and as a result, they failed the nation.

        I don’t know. I’m torn between great sorrow and anger as I watch what I hope is not the end of America as we know it. I am not a negative person, but this battle was vital, and we lost. It’s a hard blow. Anyway, take care out there. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

  3. Moderate Dem · · Reply

    First of all, very well reasoned and thought out post. Although I’m a lifelong Democrat, I know enough to know that neither I nor my party are right on everything, and I appreciate intelligent discourse from the other side.

    The one question I would pose to your analysis: although clearly not 5-10% of the electorate over a four year span, did you account for population decline in rust belt states and/or variance in growth rates vs. other parts of the country? Conversely, I would have to think that substantially larger turnout in places like Virginia and Colorado is at least partially driven by growth in population. It would be interesting to see how the map looks when population drift is factored in.

    Finally, while again pointing out my appreciation for your perspective, the last poster (Southpaw Tracks) epitomizes why Republicans are struggling to resonate with young people, women and minorities as much as they are. Barack Obama is not a communist for suggesting that tax rates are imbalanced, nor are any of the members of the Democratic congressional leadership. Suggesting that they are is argumentative and shows a gross lack of understanding for political theory – or perhaps worse, a desire to portray those who disagree with you as something they’re not. I’m 35, white, have been gainfully employed every day of my adult life, have paid my fair share of taxes, am married with three daughters, and I’m a devout Christian. Assuming that I simply watched a Michael Moore movie, or Bill Maher’s show, or Southpark and built my entire political perspective on what someone on TV told me to believe is insulting. Furthermore, it’s doing nothing to solve the problem for Republicans. If it makes you feel better about yourself and your beliefs, fine. But it’s going to do absolutely nothing to elect a Republican President in 2016 – or stem the demographic tidal wave that’s coming if Republicans don’t figure out how to resonate with America’s growing demographics.

    1. All I can say is I did think about population as a possible factor, but didn’t have the data to work with. (There must be 2012 estimates out there, or more usefully, published number of registered voters by state, but I didn’t find it.) It’s a good point and one that could be part of the story of the midwest turnout. I also thought about weather as a factor. I did at least look at the number of Senators/Governors running, which also can affect turnout, but didn’t see any definitive trend on that.

      Thank you very much for reading. I very much welcome comments from Democrats and Libertarians. You may find some of my other post-election posts interesting; I agree with some of your analysis and I am worried that Republicans will miss a chance to make some adjustments in their platform and message.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful reply.

    2. Pardon the tardy response. I just now read your comment as pertains to me. Here was what I take exception that you stated about me personally:

      “Barack Obama is not a communist for suggesting that tax rates are imbalanced, nor are any of the members of the Democratic congressional leadership. Suggesting that they are is argumentative and shows a gross lack of understanding for political theory – or perhaps worse, a desire to portray those who disagree with you as something they’re not.” Perhaps it is you who is slandering someone for something they are not, and perhaps it is you who is politically ignorant.

      End quote of your inappropriate comment.

      My response:

      I think it is you who is portaying someone as something they are “not”. For you to imply that I am merely being argumentative, politically ignorant, or so petty as to slander someone for something they are not, is a gross error, and highly offensive.

      Barack Obama was raised by Marxist parents (this is documented fact), and the Communist Party USA endorsed his run for office in both elections and worked hard to get him elected (this too is documented fact). In addition, he was also endorsed by the largest Socialist organization in the United States, and they too worked hard to get him elected. That organization is the Democratic Socialists of America: He also has several of their members in key cabinet positions (this too is documented fact).

      And while I grant you those who voted for him have no clue for the most part who he is, this does mean the rest of us are politically ignorant, or “agumentative” for being aware this. And finally, it becomes apparent here, that it is you who “epitomize’ a gross lack of political understanding.

      I am in full command of “understanding”, and I stand by my words: And those who voted for him stood side by side with the Communist Party USA when they cast their vote.

      And THIS is the ignorance of youth I was referring to. Sadly, it is also apparent it is not only the youth who are ignorant. Hope that clears all of the above up.

  4. Moderate Dem · · Reply

    Wow, I struck a nerve. Although you’ve clearly dug in your heels on the very compelling “I’m smart, you and everyone else who don’t think like me are stupid” defense, let me offer a response that will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears:

    Communism is a political philosophy where the government holds all material property and where each individual, in theory, works according to their abilities and receives an equal share of what is produced. Your suggestion that an elected official who supports higher tax rates or government sponsored social health and welfare programs is a communist is clearly a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Quite bluntly, either you don’t understand what that means or you’re deliberately trying to portray the facts. Otherwise, we have not had a President who was not a “Communist” since Herbert Hoover.

    Your “proof” is also glaringly insufficient: are you really suggesting that the political leanings of a person’s parents alone determine their future political philosophy? Since this is the only proof you offered, please explain to me how Ron Reagan Jr. is a Democrat? Or Warren Buffett for that matter?

    And please, spare me the endorsement garbage: Stormfront endorsed Paul, then Romney. Are Congressman Paul and Governor Romney racists by extension? Or could it just be that they chose to endorse the candidate that isnt actively trying to move the country further right – in much the same way as Conservatives selected Romney over Obama while, as Grover Norquist put it, “holding their nose”.

    Finally, if Obama is hell bent on this socialist takeover, why hasn’t it happened yet? In his first two years, he had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and a 75-seat advantage in Congress? Was he waiting for these unlikely majorities to grow further? And, I’m sorry, the concept that “Obamacare”, or a historically minor increase in tax rates on the top two tax brackets are Communist takeovers is just plain B.S. If you feel differently, then Romney and Reagan have both signed landmark “Communist” legislation into law.

    Regardless of what you think, just calling someone a Communist, or anti-American, or ignorant does not make it so. But then again, what do I know, I’m just an America-hating ignorant liberal, right?

  5. […] Republican Party is “too socially conservative” says Republican Alien Professor, citing “changing social mores.” Speaking of “social mores,” some have […]

  6. […] Republican Party is “too socially conservative” says Republican Alien Professor, citing “changing social mores.” Speaking of “social mores,” some have […]

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