Originally published November 6, 2012 at 4:31 p.m., updated November 6, 2012 at 11:34 p.m.
WASHINGTON After a hard-fought battle, Republican Mitt Romney conceded tonight and President Obama has been re-elected.
Andrew Kohut, president of Pew Research Center, said Romney did not benefit as much as expected from voters' unhappiness with the economy.
Election Night 2012
Kohut noted that intangibles have helped Obama: More Americans have favorable opinion of the president than Romney. And about 10 percent more believe Obama is in touch with them than is the Republican challenger.
As expected, the battleground state of Ohio put it over the top in the Electoral College for the president.
Other states brought no surprises: President Obama has won Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington D.C., Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island.Gov. Romney carried Arizona, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Utah, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Nationwide, Kohut says, "the most startling thing for the Obama campaign is the loss of support among young people 18-29 years old." Their support has fallen by 6 percent, he says. The reason? Jobs.
Ups And Downs
If the presidential race has people on pins and needles, it wasn't that way six months ago. Democrats said they were disappointed with Obama's performance, smarting from the desultory economy, and frustrated that he seemed to have forgotten the poor in favor of the middle class. Republicans, too, were tepid about their candidate. In fact, until springtime, evangelicals, who make up a large part of the Republican base, flirted with a number of candidates whose chief characteristic seemed to be that they were not Mitt Romney.
But the past two months have turned into a "roller coaster ride," Sabato says. Each candidate made strategic errors.
The first bit of excitement arrived in mid-September, in the form of a leaked tape of Romney saying that 47 percent of Americans "will vote for the president no matter what," are "dependent upon government, who believe they are victims" and do not pay taxes.
But then, two weeks later, Obama stumbled throughout the first debate. The president looked like a boxer on the ropes taking blows from an aggressive Romney; he even failed to land a punch on Romney with an attack on Romney's 47 percent comment. This erased the president's yawning lead in the polls, and we had a horse race.
"Before the first debate, President Obama was on his way to a landslide re-election victory," says Thomas Riehl, a senior vice president of YouGov, an online polling firm. But after the debate, not only were Obama supporters deflated, but independents and undecided voters took a hard look at Romney — and liked what they saw.
"What Romney accomplished in the first debate was that he stood up on a stage with President Obama and made it clear he was at least his equal," Riehl says. "You could imagine a Romney presidency, and there wasn't much that was very threatening about that."
For the first time, more people told pollsters they would vote for Romney and not just against Obama. According to polls by Pew Research, 36 percent of likely voters said they had a better opinion of Romney after the debate, and his favorability rating shot up to 50 percent — about the same as the president.
But Romney's good fortunes were arrested by the weather. Hurricane Sandy served as a circuit breaker that cut into whatever momentum Romney had generated.
"This was kind of an October surprise," says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University. "It gave the president an opportunity to act presidential, to act like a commander in chief."
As Obama visited devastated parts of New Jersey and New York — as he received glowing praise from New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, and then an endorsement from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — Romney was forced to the sidelines, at least temporarily. Those television shots of the president impressed voters: The Pew poll found that nearly seven in 10 likely voters — and 63 percent of swing voters — approved of the way the president handled the disaster.
How The Vote Fell
In the final moments of the race, each candidate had advantages and disadvantages.
Gov. Romney had a clear edge among men, especially white working class men who make up much of the vote in battleground states such as Ohio and Wisconsin. He led among older voters, as well as independents, though by smaller margins that polls during the campaign indicated. Independents have voted Republican in every presidential race since 1952, with the exception of 1964 (Johnson v. Goldwater) and 2008, when Obama swept them in a wave of hope and change.
The president, however, had plenty of arrows in his quiver. After cooling to him last month, women voters have come roaring back to the president's side. Minorities — and especially Latinos, who factor large in swing states such as Florida, Colorado, and Nevada — were firmly in the president's camp. One big trend in this campaign was the strong turnout among Latinos. Young people are also loyal to the president, although not quite as enthusiastically as in 2008.
Close Elections 'The New Normal'
Abramowitz at Emory University has developed a model for predicting elections, which he calls the "time for change" model. He looks at presidential approval ratings and GDP in June, as well as incumbency.
Typically, he says, "voters are reluctant to change parties after only one term. When you get to second term or later, they're more willing to make that change."
Using this model, Obama should be poised to win the popular vote by 1 percent, Abramowitz says. But Abramowitz has noticed another development of late: partisanship.
"The advantage of incumbency has gotten smaller, because voters are less willing to cross party lines now," he says. "So when there's a Democratic president like now, Republicans are less willing to cross party lines to vote for him. As a result, the advantage is about half what it used to be."
Abramowitz and others are bracing for a nightmare scenario, similar to 2000, when George W. Bush won the electoral vote and Al Gore won the popular vote. That's a real possibility, says Goldford at Drake, particularly since Hurricane Sandy could suppress the popular vote in New York and New Jersey, even as these states go blue. If that happens, Goldford says, "this past four years will seem like a picnic compared to the next four years."
He pauses, remembering the chaos of 2000, the hanging chads and Supreme Court decision. "One thing I hope more than anything else," he says, "is that this is actually over on Tuesday night."
It may be a vain hope. Lawyers representing both sides are in place, ready to litigate and demand recounts in every close state.