Yesterday, I looked at how turnout from core Democratic constituencies could make or break Barack Obama's hopes for re-election. The premise is that in a highly polarized electorate, maximizing votes from usually supportive demographic groups will be more important than convincing the small number of truly undecided voters.
Obama or Mitt Romney can lose more than a million votes with decreases of as little as one percent of the total turnout from a core constituency. So let's look at Romney and the GOP base. These are not predictions, but instead are projections based on polling and possible turnout levels. While the groups I'll look at are well defined, there is overlap between them. Finally, these are national vote projections, and not the state totals that will decide the election. An analysis of battleground polls will come later on.
Right now, Romney and Obama are basically tied in the average of all polls. My Washington Times/JZ Analytics poll has them within one percentage point.
To win, Romney must maximize votes from whites and conservatives.
In 2008, 133 million votes were cast. That is a reasonable projection for this election, and the basis for my analysis. Then, whites made up 76% of all voters, or 101 million. John McCain took 55% of whites, or 55.5 million votes. Since whites comprise a majority of voters, they are much more than a sub-group. But whites are nonetheless a core Republican constituency.
A higher percentage of white voters equates to a greater number of votes for Romney. It could also mean fewer for Obama since a rise in the white share of all votes can also be caused by a decrease in non-white voters. Polling now has Romney getting about the same percentage of the white vote as McCain received. Should white turnout drop to 74%, Romney would lose as many as three million votes. If whites comprise more than 76% (as they did in 2010 when the GOP routed the Democrats), Romney will likely be elected.
Conservatives are a more specific target group, and the one Romney desperately needs to maximize. Conservatives of all stripes made up 34% of voters in 2008. In 2008, McCain won among conservatives, 78%-20%, with 35 million votes. Now, conservatives favor Romney over Obama, 77%-10%, with 13% undecided. Obama is very unlikely to get more than a percent or two of those uncommitted conservatives, leaving room to grow for Romney.
But will they vote in numbers needed for Romney to win? Many of those folks on the right not yet committed to Romney are Evangelicals. With them, Romney leads, 60%-26%, with 14% undecided. His shift from being pro-choice to pro-life on abortion causes suspicion. So may Romney's faith: Mormonism. People may not reveal those kinds of biases in polls, but the high number of undecided Evangelicals raises questions whether Romney's Mormonism is a factor. It may be more telling that Romney talks very little about his religion, even though by all accounts he is deeply committed to his faith.
The GOP base is both Romney's strength and potential weakness. Conservatives, who have always been reliable voters, are even more motivated at the prospect of defeating Obama. There are more conservatives than liberals, and they are usually more likely to vote than the young, Hispanic and African-American Democratic constituencies. To date, Romney has been all in with every facet of social and fiscal conservative beliefs.
But that prevents him from effectively pitching moderate voters, who increasingly vote Democrat. Example: How do you win the votes of suburban women when they can't be sure where you stand about contraception?
This dynamic of needing to maximize party ideologue voters and winning a majority of the few truly undecided is the needle both campaigns need to thread. That makes both party conventions (which are held later than usual this year) especially important. Romney's task is more difficult. He doesn't have the same level of trust from his base as Obama does from his, so he must use the convention to solidify that trust. At the same time, Romney must also allay fears that he would take the nation farther to the right than undecided voters would want to see it go.
If Romney can do both, he can become the next President.