The Voting Is Over - What Does It All Mean? SMC Panel Analyzes the Election Results

Father Mike Russo, Dean Steve Woolper, Prof. Steven Sloane, Prof. Monica Fitzgerald, and Tim Farley

After years of political sparring, four debates, and more than $4 billion in campaign expenditures, including $750 million for more than a million TV ads, the 2012 elections are finally over.

Now what? How has the vote changed the political landscape? What has this election taught us? And what does it mean for the future?

Four Saint Mary’s political experts took on these and other questions in a political panel last week. Communication Professor Father Mike Russo, an expert on politics and the media, posed questions to the panelists: School of Liberal Arts Dean Steve Woolpert, Politics Professor Steven Sloane, Liberal and Civic Studies Professor Monica Fitzgerald, and Community & Government Relations Director Tim Farley.

Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

Why did the pollsters and TV commentators get it wrong when they predicted a very tight race and even a slight Romney lead?  

Farley: “One of the disasters for the Republican apparatus was that they really didn’t understand who votes.” They primarily polled people with telephone land lines, so large segments of the electorate - particularly the young - were underrepresented. “The polling world did not catch up to where we are today.”

Sloane: Cable channels reinforce our “epistemological cocoon,” so “we only know what we already know.” Both Fox News on the Republican side and MSNBC on the Democratic side echoed the party lines, and “the Romney campaign believed their own prognosticators.”

With the Democrats still holding the White House and the Senate and the Republicans still controlling the House, how will they be able to break the deadlock we’ve witnessed over at least the past two years? 

Sloane: “The biggest issue they have to face is the ‘fiscal cliff’ (the politically unpopular expiration of Bush-era tax breaks). In the past few years, members of the House have always voted at the party’s call. To avoid the fiscal cliff, 20 or 21 Republicans would have to cross party lines. More likely, they’ll kick the can down the road by eliminating some tax deductions and basically freezing the status quo.”

Will Obama be better in his next term?

Sloane: “He’ll be more willing to take risks.”

Woolpert: “Historically, presidents are less effective in their second term. They’re almost a ‘lame duck president.’ We’re certain to see a lot of struggling.”

How much of a difference did the women’s vote really make in this election?

Fitzgerald: “Nationally, 55% of women voted for Obama, but if you break it down, it was really women of color who made the difference. 56% of white women voted for Romney - more than the percentage who voted for McCain in 2008. Obama won 96% of black women and 76% of Hispanic women. The lesson is that women are not a monolithic vote. Young women need to take this opportunity to use their political voice to keep this conversation going.”

What do the election results in California mean for the future?

Farley: “Tax measures, including Proposition 30, did surprisingly well. Of 106 local school tax measures, 85 passed, and 75% of other municipal tax measures passed. Was this a hiccup? Or are people saying, ‘We think there’s a role for government and we need to fund it’? Also, when the legislature convenes in January, it will be the first time any party has had a supermajority since 1930s and the first time Democrats have had a supermajority for 130 years. For those of us concerned about funding for education, that’s a very good sign.   

What was the importance of the youth vote?

Farley: “Young people came out in high numbers.” However, “for the past two election cycles, the youth vote has come out for presidential elections but disappeared in the midterm elections. I suspect that in 2014, the Republicans will see a resurgence, not because their message is all of a sudden more welcoming” but because many of the people who voted in 2012 will sit out the midterm elections.  

After the panel discussion, the questioning was opened up to audience members. Among their questions were:

Why did Romney perform so poorly in his home state of Michigan and Massachusetts, where he served as governor?

Woolpert: “When he succeeded in winning the governorship of Massachusetts, he ran in the middle of the road. In order get the Republican nomination, he had to move to the right and move away from some of the positions he had as governor. Massachusetts is a very liberal state. You’re not going to win running from a conservative position, so it wasn’t a surprise.”

Given the demographic changes of the country, what can the GOP do to be more appealing to the overall nation?

Russo: “His name is Marco Rubio (the U.S. senator from Florida, who solidified his position as a Republican rising star with his speech to the GOP nominating convention).”

Woolpert: “It’s very hard to see how the Republicans are going to get 270 electoral votes with the current distribution of age, gender and ethnicity that has been successful for the Democrats. They’ll have to make immigration reform not an issue. And someone a little more charismatic than Romney might help.”

Sloane: “There’s been a battle going on between the tea partiers and the moderates in the GOP. There’s a major shakeup because of this election. They’ll be asking, ‘How can we get together? How can we agree?’ ”

Fitzgerald: “They’ll be looking at some of their social policies. Single women were a huge factor in this election, with the conversation about who controls reproduction. There’s no expectation that they’ll give up their anti-abortion stand but they’ll recognize they’ve lost appeal to many women. The demographics are what they are: 88% of Romney’s supporters were white, and that can’t carry the country anymore. So they are going to have to reach out and build their grass roots, including coming to colleges and finding young Republicans who are going to build a much different coalition.”

Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications

Photo by Karen Kemp