The Washington Post’s chief political correspondent, Dan Balz, gave an analysis of the latest election at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, where the seats filled with students and community members.
The University of Wisconsin’s School of Journalism invited Balz to speak about the recent election between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., as part of the Nafziger Lecture Series.
Balz said the election came down to a question of whether voters would give Obama only one term and reverse his policies or embrace his vision and continue what he has done.
“In the end, a majority of Americans voted to keep going forward, although I think it was an affirmation of the president’s vision and yet not a clear mandate for everything he talked about,” Balz said.
In addition to painting Romney as an “unacceptable alternative,” Balz said the Obama team changed this election from a referendum into a choice. Making voters think about years down the line instead of six months away, he said, made the election much easier to win for Obama.
Obama did not “fully win the argument” over the economy, Balz said, which was seen in Romney winning the majority of voters who saw the economy as the biggest issue and a majority of voters who said the country was off-track. However, he said Obama was able to make a better connection with middle-class voters, seen in the majority of voters who thought Romney’s policies favored the rich.
Balz said another big factor in the election was the “power of demographics,” noting the share of white voters in the electorate has decreased over time. In 1980, about 89 percent of voters were white, and in 2000, that number was 81 percent of voters. During Obama’s 2008 election, 74 percent of voters were white.
In a conversation with Balz months before November’s election, Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, told him he predicted the white share of the electorate would be 72 percent, and he was right.
The Romney campaign, Balz said, expected that number to stay around 74 percent or increase slightly. This may be a reason why the Romney campaign was surprised he lost, seen in his comments on Election Day before the results came in that he had only written one speech: a victory speech.
“Part of this is just the glacial strength, power [and] force of demographic change that Republicans are now on the wrong side of,” Balz said. “The Republicans thought they might be able, in a sense, to hold that glacier back this time enough to help Governor Romney win. In the end, they were overwhelmed by it.”
Although many were predicting increasing amounts of money would be catastrophic, Balz said all the money that was spent this cycle “bought us a status quo election.” He added that money is still a “pernicious influence,” and a more transparent system is needed.
James Baughman, a UW journalism professor who introduced Balz, called him a “shoe-leather reporter” who is “fair and judicious” in his reporting and said it was important for people to hear his analysis given his experience and skill.
UW junior and journalism student Carly Allard, who attended the lecture, said she was pleased with hearing from the award-winning reporter, especially as this was the first presidential election she voted in.
“This reiterates the opportunities that the UW allows,” Allard said. “I thought having someone with such great merit was good to listen to, and it was good to get a professional opinion from someone who’s in Washington. It was kind of inspiring.”