What I Learned Last Tuesday

So, after six billion dollars spent (give or take), pundits on both sides pushing an argument, and politicians repeating the same ole’ lines week after week, I had to find a takeaway or two from this year’s election. Hey, you have to learn something from time to time, or at least think you do. At a high level, here are my top five:

(1) Demographics are Changing: Well, we all know that polls don’t matter. Only who shows up on election day counts. It reminds me of a big sports game, and that the underdog truly can win. That’s why we play the game. There were thousands of polls ran over the past months, and it was difficult to determine outside the margin of error (+/-3 percent) who was going to win. Romney wins if the turnout model looks like 2004. Obama wins if the turnout model looks like 2008. We had MSNBC and the Huffington Post on one side of the argument and FoxNews and the Wall-Street journal on the other. In the end, the Obama team ran a great campaign and had a far better turnout at the ballot box. He had a better sales message and a well run organization. Well run organizations win championships–see the St. Louis Cardinals vs the Chicago Cubs.

I remember reading an article a couple years back about a technologist analyzing voter trends through data mining. He might have worked at Google once–I can’t remember for sure. Anyway, he predicted the results of the election two years ago–at least he setup the battle plan. The Democratic Party had a better machine and tools, which led to the victory. Dick Morris, a Fox Pundit, predicted a Romney landslide. Watching him panic on Twitter and then go away was entertaining. But give Dick credit, he had a great article out the next day on why his prediction didn’t pan out. With the ability analyze data feeds at a high rate, perhaps the +/-3 percent margin of error should go. Give the techno gods credit, they pegged it from the beginning.

And it appears that the young kids showing up and broader demographic turnout among Women, African Americans and Latinos are here to stay. And that’s not necessarily bad. It’s a good thing. In the next election, the Republicans need to think through how to reach out to these voters (or at least not alienate them in big ways); otherwise, these results are most likely here to stay.

(2) Unfortunately, a Successful Background and the Economy Didn’t Really Matter (Your sales pitch should be simple and effective): The Romney sales pitch didn’t come across to the voter base. No matter how you look at it, before campaigning for the job Mitt Romney had a far better background on paper to be Commander in Chief. He was a successful businessman, built one of the most influential investment firms in the world, ran the Olympic games, and served as Governor of a state before running for President. If these candidates would have ran against each other four years ago, their resumes wouldn’t even compare. However, President Obama is actually President now, and there are only four other men on the planet alive and well today that can claim that. Barrack Obama was able to close the experience gap because he actually has had the job for the last four years. There is an advantage for the incumbent and Romney wasn’t able to bridge the gap.

On the economic front, a little less than 60% of Americans felt that it was the number one issue. Sure, it dominated what folks said during the exit polls, but that didn’t necessarily translate into votes for Mitt Romney. Most people felt that the Republican would be better than the President in handling this in the future–about 55% in his favor. Why didn’t he win? Well a stuttering economy is far better than the collapsing one from four years ago. Women and Latinos bolted toward Obama in greater numbers. It put Romney in a deep hold that he couldn’t recover. Regardless of what was said, social matters were instrumental in how people ended up voting no matter what the polls said. The Republicans had a century of economic data on their side (raising taxes has never led to economic growth in this country, not that I could find), but the party never clearly stated a point of view around other important issues including abortion, contraception, immigration, and gay marriage. There was less leadership here and more dancing around the issues. It showed.

(3) The Impact of Citizens United: The landmark case, decried by the Obama administration (remember Judge Alito shaking his head while Obama chastised the court), was supposed to lead to millions of dollars of additional funding to be funneled into presidential campaigns. That could be argued. However, that wasn’t really what the case was about at all. When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama squared off for the nomination in 2008, Citizens United (an organization that fosters conservative principles) created a short movie called “Hillary” that was less than flattering to the candidate. The movie was pulled and the company took it to court. What’s different about this movie and Fahrenheit 9/11? Well, the court said nothing and basically mandated that both corporations and citizens have a right to freedom of speech.

Despite the ruling, no corporation can donate directly to a presidential campaign. Nothing has changed here. But what they can do is lobby for a particular cause–energy independence, healthcare, contraception, etc., Ads on these topics were bountiful during the race. All told, over six billion dollars was spent in this election cycle. More money was spent by Democrats in the Presidential and Senatorial campaigns while Republicans outspent the other party in House races. Any statistician can see the correlation. It’s interesting that the judges that wrote the dissent cited that the flooding of money into a campaign would depress voter turnout–the exact opposite actually happened.

For the good and the bad, we’re seeing a deluge of money put into these campaigns. With trillions spent by our government annually and out there for the taking, six billion is a relatively small investment. Follow the money. If anything, this election shows us what our politicians face each and every day by lobbyists and special interests. That’s a good thing. Personally, I think we should be able to line up each parties five best candidates (and for good measure let the Green Party have one for grins and giggles) and do this American Idol style with one candidate being voted off each week. We would just have to figure out how to limit one vote to one person. I am ashamed to admit that I voted for the last American Idol winner three times. I really believe that Phillip Phillips (the guy with two first names) has a good sound.

(4) Why Can’t Florida Figure Out Voting: There were people on Twitter claiming they were still in line for voting in Florida well after midnight on election day. CNN showed people waiting four hours to vote. Does Miami have one voting booth that everyone has to walk through? Yes, elections are expensive and have always been local. I’m a big proponent of state’s rights, but in a National Election some standardization has to come about. It’s too confusing. In Florida, there is early voting, but in other states this is unconstitutional. Some states let you vote six weeks in advance while others give you certain days of the month. Some precincts use special pens while others use dial machines. I’m sure there is a state that requires you to register three days after a full moon and throw salt over your left shoulder while you fill out the form.

Our constitution says we should vote for President on a certain day of the month, and that’s when we should do it. It’s not hard to have a common means for voting, keep the rules simple and out there so everyone can follow. I still don’t see why it’s so hard to have a little consistency, mandate a driver’s license or voter id card, and show up on a certain day or place to vote. If you can’t figure it out then, you shouldn’t be voting anyway. This is baffling America. We should expect more.

(5) Ban the Electoral College: I’m a constitutional purist and like it how it is, but my wife fought me tooth and nail on this one. And after thinking it through I think she has a valid point. Sure, I’m all about state’s rights. I still remember my grade school civics and remember the founders making sure that the big states don’t dominate the smaller ones. That’s why we have two bodies of Congress.

But in this day and age, we can micro target down to the county where the votes will go. If Mitt Romney doesn’t get 44.3% in this particular county in Ohio he loses the election. So, the people in their county get a mailbox full of flyers each day. Not being in a swing state, I get nothing. One piece of mail, that’s all I wanted. Yet, I didn’t get a single flyer or phone call. Polls closed in my county at 7.00pm and one second later my state was called. If this were done by popular vote, it would be interesting to see what would happen to the government’s funding. We get what we incent. Most of the top 100 projects cited by the White House in the Stimulus Bill went to swing states. What would happen if there were no swing states? Incentives matter. It would be interesting to follow the money trail if this change were to take place. Perhaps then, we could start having a few big ideas, like repairing a power grid in the Northeast.