What the interest in succession says about Obama

Is the United States really in danger of a secession movement?  The short answer is obviously no.  But that is asking the wrong question: why do people across all 50 states (hundreds-of-thousands of people, by the way) feel the urge to leave the Union?  We didn’t see this type of movement after the election of George W. Bush in 2004, even though he was about as popular as President Obama during his reelection.

Many would argue that this is an overreaction to a difficult election loss.  We know that President Obama’s victory on Election Day had less to do with an affirmation of his policies, and more to do with his abilities as a campaigner.

It wasn’t that President Obama road a grown swell of support and reaffirmation of his presidency.  Rather, it was that he was seen as lesser of two evils by many.  For the first time in history, an American President was elected with less support than his first term.  President Obama even used behavior scientists to assist him in manipulating the public to secure his victory (not to begrudge him the strategy, as it worked):

Less well-known is that the Obama campaign also had a panel of unpaid academic advisers. The group — which calls itself the “consortium of behavioral scientists,” or COBS — provided ideas on how to counter false rumors, like one that President Obama is a Muslim. It suggested how to characterize the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in advertisements. It also delivered research-based advice on how to mobilize voters.

“In the way it used research, this was a campaign like no other,” said Todd Rogers, a psychologist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former director of the Analyst Institute. “It’s a big change for a culture that historically has relied on consultants, experts and gurulike intuition.”

Obama prevailed by suppressing Republican and independent voters.  His carpet bombing of key states with negative advertising prevailed in making Romney appear radioactive and thus, suppressed those voters who would have otherwise carried the Governor to victory.  Michael Medved discusses this reality in his recent column from the Daily Beast:

The most striking change in the results this year involved a precipitous and alarming decline in voter participation, a drop-off that stemmed from a deliberate strategy by the Obama campaign and almost certainly provided the president with his margin of victory. Meanwhile, much of the conventional wisdom about the results has been fatuous and unsubstantiated, ignoring the troubling reality of disillusioned voters.

For instance, there’s no basis for the common claim Obama won through a superb, unprecedented, supremely effective get-out-the-vote effort by the Democrats. Even downcast Republicans have hailed the opposition’s turnout operation as magnificent, but they fail to note that it resulted in far fewer voters showing up for President Obama.

The president drew 7.6 million fewer votes than he did in the hope-and-change election of 2008. His vote total, 61,911,000, is far closer to the numbers in Sen. John Kerry’s losing bid in 2004 than to his own triumphant support four years ago. Even the reviled President George W. Bush earned more raw votes, from a much smaller potential electorate, in his own reelection bid than Obama did in his.

It should come as no surprise that after running such a negative campaign, hundreds of thousands of citizens won’t no more of you.

Maybe, just maybe, Romney (as a candidate) was the problem?

Many on the right have asserted (rightfully so, I would argue) that Mitt Romney ran a good campaign, but Obama’s overwhelming lead among Hispanics, African-Americans, and single women pushed victory out of reach.  Perhaps that is too simple an explanation.  According to Andrew Kohut, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Romney himself may bear the bulk of the blame:

Here is what the exit poll found. Mr. Romney’s personal image took a hard hit during the primary campaign and remained weak on election day. Just 47% of exit-poll respondents viewed him favorably, compared with 53% for Mr. Obama. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Romney’s favorable ratings were among the lowest recorded for a presidential candidate in the modern era. A persistent problem was doubt about his empathy with the average voter. By 53% to 43%, exit-poll respondents said that Mr. Obama was more in touch than Mr. Romney with people like themselves.

Mr. Romney was never fully embraced by Republicans themselves, which may have inhibited the expected strong Republican turnout. Pew’s election-weekend survey found Mr. Romney with fewer strong supporters (33%) than Mr. Obama (39%). Similarly, a much greater percentage of Obama supporters (80%) than Romney supporters (60%) told Pew that they were voting for their candidate rather than against his opponent.

I’m not convinced that this is accurate, as it ignores the impact that months (and months) of negative advertising by Obama had running against Governor Romney.