This election cycle gave analysts, academics and the political chattering class many questions to chew on in recent weeks.
Could the president eke out a victory despite an economy barely shuffling towards recovery? How would Super PAC war chests affect election outcomes? What impact would America’s shifting demographics have on the vote?
In the wake of President Barack Obama’s win Tuesday, American University faculty is answering those questions and more.
The Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies hosted a panel discussion Thursday with AU political experts to unpack the election. James Thurber, Distinguished University Professor and director of the center moderated the event.
Joining Thurber in the discussion were Eric Hershberg, Director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies; Jennifer Lawless, Director of the Women & Politics Institute; Dotty Lynch, Executive in Residence for SOC; Candice Nelson, Director of the Campaign Management Institute; and Leonard Steinhorn, Director of the Public Communication Division for SOC.
Breaking down election wins and losses:
"Romney has a very bruising time getting the nomination and had to swing hard in order to get the nomination. During that period, Obama really has a stealthy campaign of building the ground." Thurber said to a packed forum. "In the end it seems that the ground war was very important, even more important than the air war."
Nelson focused on how much was spent during this election cycle and how each candidate’s fundraising strategy played out. Obama operated a sophisticated fundraising operation, micro-targeting certain groups and relying on small donations over time, he said.
“Obama could go back to his supporters again and again,” Nelson said, because donors were giving small enough increments to not hit the $2,500 campaign contribution ceiling. “Obama wanted to raise as much money as possible so he could decide where to spend it.”
The Republicans, on the other hand, made more use of outside funds rather than direct campaign contributions to help “shore up their candidate.”
“The Super PACS were much more aggressive on the Republican side,” Nelson said.
Steinhorn followed with a breakdown of the respective presidential campaigns’ overall messaging. Republicans were disinclined to acknowledge the changing face of the American electorate, specifically younger voters who are more socially liberal and minorities who are personally affected by issues like immigration legislation, he said.
“Republicans are going to have to get away from denialism,” Steinhorn said, “and deal with the realities of the American population.” Lynch, who had only just returned from New York City where she was providing election analysis for CBS News, deconstructed the exit poll conducted by the major television networks and the Associated Press.
As the nation’s first female presidential pollster, Lynch helped draft the poll questions. The exit data collected showed the deep rift in American political ideology remains, she said. “I think you still have a divided country. And what that says in terms of how we go forward and how [Obama] goes forward as president is something we’ll be grappling with for a while.”
Women and women’s issues were very much part of the political discourse this year, Lawless explained.
She was less than enthusiastic about the results for female candidates, despite record gains in Congress. The number of women in the Senate increased from 17 to 20, while the number of women in the House jumped to 77, up from 73.
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“These are not the kinds of gains necessary to bring about widespread change.” Lawless said. “You still have very few women running for office.”
Hershberg offered a gentle reminder to Republican strategists moving forward — that demography is destiny. The Latin American Studies scholar reinforced the importance of the growing Latino population on the American political landscape.
“It’s not about conveying ideas; it’s about seeing what you can do to change the message,” Hershberg said. While Republicans did a good job of relating their message to Latino voters, Hershberg said, the problem resided with the GOP’s planks, not delivery.
What about the future of the Republican Party?
“There’s no central core of authority,” Thurber said. “There’s the [Paul] Ryan wing versus the moderate Republicans. I think it’s going to be a battle.”