ELECTION SPECIAL

How Obama won—and what it means for America

A highly disciplined targeted campaign delivered the Presidency to the Democrats again.
Sheila Liaugminas | 8 November 2012
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Headlines everywhere the day after the 2012 election claimed that the single issue motivating voters was the economy. But if that were the case, Barack Obama would not have won.

The past four years have been an economic disaster, with unprecedented government spending on stimulus efforts that failed miserably, chronic unemployment bedeviled by more people dropping off the rolls when they gave up looking for work, higher numbers of people without homes and relying on food stamps, small businesses unable to grow or hire because banks wouldn’t lend and government wouldn’t get off their backs with regulations, gas prices doubling and food prices rising.

Those headlines were wrong. President Obama won re-election because of an astounding, slick, savvy and highly successful ground game and campaign geniuses who ran that machine like General Patton and his divisions ran a military campaign. Credit is due where it is earned, and the Obama team blew away even the top pundits who never saw it coming, through Election Day itself. It was Obama’s shock and awe.

It wasn’t the economy that delivered. It was demographics. Sheer, simple, brilliantly executed machine politics crafted to get out the vote by all means possible to deliver every demographic group who identified with an Obama promise. And racking up those groups for Election Day was itself a stroke of genius.

It probably started back when Mr. Obama had to decide whether to run his re-election campaign by drifting to center to appeal to more voters or swinging to the far left to appeal to his base. He chose the latter, and that’s when key voter groups were more easily targeted.

Then, as they say in Major League Baseball, he swung for the fences.

The Women Vote

For some not altogether clear reason, single women tend to break largely for Democrats and married women for Republicans, though they may be the same age group. But this time around, Obama gathered in the powerful forces of the abortion movement and added on with the so-called ‘contraceptive mandate’. Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law grad who testified before a congressional panel about why the government should require employers to make birth control pills available for free became a poster face of the campaign.

Obama took the leap in January 2012 of directing Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a notorious abortion stalwart, to issue the HHS mandate requiring employers to provide access to not only birth control pills, but abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures, even if it violates employers’ consciences or moral beliefs. He thus de facto socialized the liberal sexual agenda under the spreading reach of Big Government.

The Oval Office knew that would offend and violate the rights of Catholic institutions and employers, and other faith-based groups, so he got ahead of the inevitable confrontation by declaring that any opposition to this ‘woman’s preventive health’ mandate amounted to a ‘War on Women.’ Astonishingly, it worked.

The Catholic Vote

In 2008, the Catholic Vote, which has been about even split over the past 50 years, voted for Obama over Sen. John McCain 54 to 45 percent. In the 2012 presidential election, it went for Obama over Gov. Mitt Romney 50 to 48 percent. The narrowing of that margin was probably due to the HHS mandate, because the pro-life issues certainly haven’t brought Catholics together over the past 40 years.

The Obama administration didn’t bank on the religious vote this time around, most likely. Prevailing wisdom had it that Evangelicals, Catholics and others fighting to defend First Amendment religious liberty rights would vote for Romney. Obama still got the progressive Catholic vote, by a thin margin, because he convinced them that his healthcare and social policies would provide more safety nets for the needy and vulnerable. Never mind that there are probably no humans more needy and vulnerable than unborn babies.

The Latino/Hispanic Vote

Though this demographic is largely Catholic, they are also heavily immigrant and though immigration issues have mostly been off the table in Obama’s first term (unlike George Bush’s second term, in which he forged a bi-partisan ‘Pathway to Citizenship’ reform bill that went nowhere in Congress), Obama did enough to pull in this vote.

Latinos represented 10 percent of the vote, but Obama won 71 percent of them. A Mexican woman wrote me the day after and explained.

“Most of us Hispanics come from countries that are oppressed by our own government. For example, in Mexico we have the PRI. We are told here in the US the Republican Party is like the PRI, and the Democratic party here is like the PAN (democrat party). In Mexico the PRI has been very mean to the people in fact that is the party that persecuted the Catholic Church during the Cristeros War.”

She mentioned policy on status for illegal students brought here by their parents when they were young, as “enough reason for the Hispanics to come out and cast their votes for Obama.” And she added: “I don't recall any Republican rep coming to the Hispanic neighborhoods and talking to them in Spanish to make them understand what is at stake by the way they will vote.” That’s a huge differential. The Hispanic vote has to be taken seriously.

The Youth Vote

The day before the election, Politico carried a column, picked up on news radio, that the youth vote was not engaged this time around, that they felt overlooked and under-appreciated and so they would largely sit out this election. That turned out to be very wrong. Despite predictions like that, voters 18-39 made up 19 percent of the electorate who turned out – actually up from 18 percent in 2008 – and 60 percent of them voted for Obama. Why?

“Obama was very effective in his messaging and campaigning with this group,” explained Johnnie Moore, vice-president of Liberty University and a ‘young evangelical dynamo well versed in the behaviors of the millennial generation,’ according to the Washington Post and other media. He told me that demographic was “motivational more than informational,” and the Obama campaign slogan “Forward” worked, which was a big surprise to me.

“Millennials are anti-political, but civically engaged,” he said. “Young people vote for one reason – they feel like the person cares about them.” And Obama managed to convince them of that.

He declared the Millennials to be “the most pro-life generation” in post-Roe history, which seems at odds with voting for the most pro-abortion president in history. But he admitted feelings and emotion trumps reason for a lot of these voters.

And that’s probably the best summary of the whole electorate at this point in US history. This country has changed, probably irreversibly now, with this election. Nobody the day after denied that. But the election didn’t change the country; it reflected the change that has come over the past several years.

On that score, Obama delivered.

He changed his position on marriage and wrote it into his party platform. He changed the platform belief that abortion should be ‘safe, legal and rare’ by removing ‘rare,’ because that implies some moral calculation, as a Washington pro-life attorney told me. His campaign charged the US bishops and other religious leaders as launching a ‘War on Women’ by resisting the HHS mandate. And against all reasoning, it worked. He campaigned in 2008 on fundamentally transforming America. There’s no question he’s halfway there. With this election victory, he has been given the time to complete the project.

“Forward.” To what and to where? It’s looking a lot like Europe.

Sheila Liaugminas is a leading Chicago radio journalist and blogs for MercatorNet at Sheila Reports. 

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