A Decisive Data Driven Victory

November 8, 2012

Numbers and narrative are always intertwined on Election Day.  On November 6, 2012, the numbers told the story of the most data-driven presidential campaign in history. President Obama ran a highly targeted campaign focused on mobilizing and expanding the coalition that won him the 2008 election.  "The Obama campaign laid out its plan, told everyone what they were doing and executed," said Anita Dunn, a former Obama White House official who advised the campaign through the fall. "No one should be surprised."

The Obama campaign went on the offensive even before Mitt Romney officially claimed the Republican nomination.  They succeeded in portraying Romney as “outsourcer in chief,” an out-of-touch oligarch with a questionable business record.  To an extent Obama won on what you might call “relatability” – that is, his ability to relate to other Americans.  Tuesday’s exit polls showed the president leading Romney by a ten-point margin among voters who were asked which candidate is more in touch with their concerns.

Crisis often provides leaders with an opportunity to show character, and the president’s response to Hurricane Sandy earned bipartisan praise, most notably from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a vocal Romney supporter.  

There were bumps along the way. The deadly attack on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, called into question both U.S. intelligence capabilities and Obama’s leadership. Obama's disappointing performance in the first debate revived Romney's campaign.  The public's frustration with the sluggish economy and high unemployment also made Obama vulnerable, although polls reveal voters still blame George W. Bush for the current economic malaise. Despite these hurdles, data sustained the confidence of Obama aides and advisers even as national polls predicted an exceedingly close race.

Get-out-the-vote efforts specifically targeted to the demographics comprising Obama’s coalition succeeded in reshaping the electorate.  In Ohio, the percentage of African American voters jumped from 11 percent to 15 percent and Obama won 96 percent of the African-American vote. In Florida, Hispanic voters grew from 14 percent to 17 percent, and Obama increased his percentage from 57 to 60, doing well in Cuban American and non-Cuban Hispanic precincts. Some 1.8 million new voters in the key battlegrounds, nearly double the number the campaign said it registered in 2008, swung the pendulum decisively in Obama’s direction.

Obama offset his weak performance among white voters by winning 78 percent of the non-white electorate. He captured 93 percent of the African American vote, 71 percent of the Hispanic vote (up from 67 percent four years ago) and 73 percent of the Asian vote (up from 62 percent in 2008).  He kept his advantage with women, defeating Romney by 11 points among female voters.  Obama also maintained his significant edge among young voters and the college-educated. 

Obama’s data driven success makes it clear that the GOP will have to recalibrate its strategy, shifting its focus from the intensely polarizing issues which defined the election and returning to a more populist platform, if it is to remain competitive nationally. 

Danielle Ford is a Marketing Communications Strategist in Kean University's Office of University Relations.