Electing the President, 2012: The Insiders' View

Electing the President, 2012: The Insiders' View

Electing the President, 2012: The Insiders' View

Electing the President, 2012: The Insiders' View


President Barack Obama decisively won reelection to a second term, garnering the popular vote as well as 332 electoral votes to the challenger's 206, but the course of presidential campaigning never did run smooth. Despite a slowly rising stock market and falling unemployment rate, the economic recession provided the Romney campaign with rich opportunities for criticism of Obama's first term. Obama's team countered negative advertising with its own program to discredit Romney's platform, building on the microtargeting techniques from 2008. A surge in social media promotion and fact-checking changed the tenor of campaign reportage for better and for worse.

On December 6, 2012, prominent members of President Obama's election staff (including David Axelrod, Joel Benenson, Stephanie Cutter, Anita Dunn, and Jim Margolis) met with notable members of the Romney campaign (including Eric Fehrnstrom, Kevin Madden, Beth Myers, Neil Newhouse, and Stuart Stevens) for a debriefing of this tumultuous election cycle. Each team made a formal presentation about how it prepared for and responded to the events of the election, describing the members' strategies and perceptions at different points of the campaign and interrogating the opposing party's team about its tactics. In this book, Kathleen Hall Jamieson provides an overview and an edited transcript of the all-day event, along with a timeline of election year milestones. A DVD featuring select video of the proceedings is included. Electing the President, 2012 offers a detailed look into the internal machinery of a presidential campaign and insight into the principles that drive outcomes in a democratic election.


President Barack Obama’s 2012 victory over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was not a foregone conclusion. No incumbent since FDR in 1936 had retained the Oval Office with an unemployment rate as high as the one that dogged the Obama presidency. But with housing starts and the stock market up and a 7.8 percent unemployment rate undercutting the challenger’s earlier refrain that the country had experienced “43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent,” the country’s first African American to be elected president became the second Democrat since FDR to claim a second term. When the dust settled, the incumbent had 332 electoral votes to the challenger’s 206. Obama’s 51.1 percent of the popular vote made him the second president since Ike to top 50 percent in the popular vote in two presidential elections, a standard President Ronald Reagan also met.

The demographic divide separating Obama and Romney voters was wide and clear. As the exit polls confirmed, the 2012 Obama-Biden ticket had once again assembled the coalition of women, young people, Hispanics, blacks, and Asians that had cemented its 2008 victory. By so doing, the Democratic campaign defied the presumed “enthusiasm gap” that favored Romney’s election.

Among the many reasons that Romney’s 47.2 percent of the popular vote was remarkable was its composition. As Juan Williams noted in the Wall Street Journal, “Mitt Romney won the white vote 59 to 39 percent, the biggest share for a Republican since 1988—and it was still not enough to put him in the White House.” These figures prompted the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman to observe that President Barack Obama’s victory “signaled the irreversible triumph of a new, 21stcentury America: multiracial, multi-ethnic, global in outlook and moving beyond centuries of racial, sexual, marital and religious tradition.”

One of the secrets of the Democratic campaign’s success was its skillful use of social media to energize potential supporters and donors. Where the microtargeting done by the 2008 Obama operation was groundbreaking, its use by the 2012 team all but redefined the term. As Time noted, the path to the Democratic win was paved by “a massive data effort that helped Obama raise $1 billion, remade the process of targeting TV ads and created detailed models of swing-state voters that could . . .

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