• March 3, 2015

Iowa State Daily

Election 2012 Recap: How the Democrats Won

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Posted: Monday, January 7, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 5:46 pm, Mon Jan 7, 2013.

After the end of one of the longest and most expensive elections in history, there appears to be reconsideration from both sides as to how the entire process went down.

Looking at the elections, Republicans were unable to unseat President Barack Obama as he sought reelection for a second term. Additionally, they lost seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to Democrats, although Republicans still retained control of the House.

“I’m surprised by the amount of attention social science received, especially people like Nate Silver and others,” said David Peterson, professor of political science. “There’s going to be a lot more attention to political science in campaigns. … We are moving to a new model whereby what we see and observe actually matters.”

Nate Silver is an American statistician who correctly predicted the outcome of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 2012 presidential race as well as correctly predicting 31 of 33 U.S. Senate races. Silver relied on statistical models based on demographic analysis and accurate political polling to make his predictions which turned out to be incredibly accurate. Applying and working with these statistical models, Peterson said, is what gave the Democrats an ultimate advantage over the Republicans.

“The Democrats more broadly brought in what social science can teach us,” Peterson said. “Because of this, there was a much more rapid adaptability part of the Democrats’ campaigns – they won essentially every close Senate race because they had smart people behind the scenes.”

Additionally, Peterson noted that there was a widespread tendency among Republican candidates to say “stupid things” in regards to abortion, immigration and Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remark, which turned off voters, especially women and minorities, who later became a driving force behind Obama’s reelection effort.

Going forward, Peterson recommended that Republicans take a new look at how they run campaigns and message themselves. However, he added, this new type of “money ball” politics is not anything new. In fact, Peterson said that targeted messaging based on statistical analysis was first applied during Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s early gubernatorial campaigns.

“The GOP needs to catch up,” Peterson said. “The problem will be finding social scientists who are Republicans. … The worst thing they can do is continue to bring in old pollsters and campaign managers. They need to find people who are young and creative and actually have their careers at stake. Romney didn’t have creative people.”

On a local level, the College Democrats also succeeded in producing record turnout for many voting blocs that tend to vote Democratic, such as youth, women, African-Americans, Hispanics and LGBT. Additionally, early voting and various celebrity appearances played a major part in their success as well.

“One of the most trying times was early voting week, where we were already super-focused and busy with getting people to vote early,” said Abhishek Vemuri, president of the ISU College Democrats. “But then in the midst of that entire operation, we were told Bruce Springsteen was coming and had to redirect some of our attention to building for that event in only a few days, on top of all our existing canvassing and phone-banking to get out the early vote.”

Vemuri, like Peterson, noted that one edge they appeared to have was their adaptability in a rapidly-changing communications and technology-driven world.

“In many ways this election was a vindication of how our party campaigns. Seeing how effective they were, I don't think there's a lot of incentive to make any major changes in our approach,” Vemuri said. “Our campaign was really good at tapping into the potential of the technologies of our day, and there is widespread recognition of the value in that skill.”

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