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American Government Lecture Eight

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Ron Paul, a Republican congressman and candidate for the Republican nomination for president, explained the election outcome this way:[1]

If you look at the numbers and if you look at the way pure democracy works, pure democracy is dangerous. The majority dictates against the minority. So, right now the majority are receiving a check [from the government]. So when you get a vote, that is why people were sort of surprised with these conditions that this president can get reelected. That is a bad sign in that there are more on the receiving end. People do not want anything cut. They want all the bailouts to come. They want the Fed to keep printing money.

Analysis of Election

Obama won the presidential election by an electoral college vote of 332 to 206 (totaling 538). The members of the Electoral College will meet and vote in December to make Obama officially the winner. He will then be sworn in on January 20, 2013, in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States.

Why did Obama win? Ron Paul's analysis of the election may be correct. But there are other explanations. A prior lecture predicted that this election may be like the one in 1948, when a likable Harry S Truman defeated a wealthy and unlikable Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, despite a weak economy. Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, had plenty of money to spend on political ads and campaign workers, but had trouble "connecting" with average Americans. Romney won 48% of the vote, but that was not enough to win. Obama barely exceeded 50%, and third party candidates won another two percent, with Libertarian Party candidate (and former Republican) Gary Johnson doing the best among the third party candidates.

Exit polls (the polling of voters as they leave voting booths) provide much data about who voted, and why. For example, many voters felt that the economy is the most important issue, but blamed former President George W. Bush rather than President Obama for the bad economy today!

The most telling data about the election is this: "18-29 year olds made up 19 percent of voters, 6 points higher than Gallup’s estimate"[2] and Obama won by 60-36% among this demographic, even though Kerry won it by only few percentage points over GWB in 2004. The reference in the quotation to "Gallup's estimate" is about the Gallup poll, which predicted on Election Day that Romney would win by 49-48%, when in fact Obama won by 50-48%.

This tipped the election in Obama's favor. In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, "if Governor Romney had won half of the youth vote, or if young voters had stayed home entirely, then Romney would have won instead of Obama. Those states represent 80 electoral votes, sufficient to have made Romney the next president."[3]

The puzzle is this: why did a large majority of young voters (age 18-29) vote for Obama, and why in numbers larger than expected? The most plausible explanation can be summed up in two words: "ground game." We learned about that in a prior lecture, and it worth revisiting next.

Ground Game

The "ground game" in elections is similar to what it is in football: the nitty-gritty moving the ball with a running game down the field, yard-by-yard, person by person, with a lot of difficult effort and teamwork. In politics, the ground game means knocking on doors in the neighborhoods to ask people to vote for your candidate, then calling them until they do vote, and maybe even finding them transportation to get to the polling booth if they don't have any. Where allowed, the ground game can mean making sure mail-in ballots are available to people who are likely to vote as hoped, and then following up to make sure they actually sent it in. Technology like email, smart phones, tweeting, texting, and following up to make sure people did what they said they would do, are what make the difference.

The old term for this was "get out the vote." That meant calling people on Election Day to remind them to vote, and perhaps even driving some people to the polling booths if they lacked transportation. The old term applied when there was one day, called Election Day, when everyone voted.

Today nearly half of Americans vote early, before Election Day. In Ohio there was a full month during which people voted. The term "ground game" is better in describing what the political parties do each day for a full month during early voting to get people likely to vote for their side to cast their vote early.

Hundreds of thousands of people voted by mail during the early voting period, for example, and the "ground game" in many states included getting mail-in ballots to people and making sure they sent them in. In some states, depending on its election rules (which vary from state to state), one person can push hundreds of people to vote during the early voting period. That is what the "ground game" means, and the better the technology and data that a political party has about its supporters, the more effective it can be in increasing its votes during early voting.

The Democrats had a much better "ground game" than the Republicans did in this election, and that is the likely reason that a larger-than-expected number of 18-29 year-olds voted, and voted for Obama by a large percentage. College students are in this age group, and the ground game works particularly well on college campuses. Democrat workers call and visit college students to get them to mail in their votes, or go to polling booths. The longer the early voting period is, the more this can be done. Obama himself voted early in October to promote this among his supporters. In the key swing state of Ohio, nearly 2 million people voted early, and the vast majority were Democrats. Obama won the state by only 100,000 votes. If Romney had a better ground game, or if there was no early voting, then Romney would have won.

Six billion dollars were spent on this election cycle, which included $2-3 billion spent on the presidential race, so there was plenty of money available to gather data about voters and pay workers to have a good ground game. But it seems that Romney's campaign did not recognize the significance of this. Reports after the election confirmed that Romney's ground game was far weaker than Obama's:[4]

Republicans had tweeted that they knocked on 75,000 doors in Ohio on Sunday. Not to worry, the field director [for the Democrats] replied, 'We knocked on 376,000 doors.'

Indiana, the state just west of Ohio, was not a swing state and it was known that Obama had no chance of winning it. So neither Obama nor Romney spent any money on a ground game there. As a result, Obama's lead among the young people who voted was much less. Romney actually won the vote in the area of Purdue University, which has may young voters.[3]

Mitt Romney's campaign underestimated the significance of the ground game in Ohio, which was the key state. Obama's campaign had nearly 100 more neighborhood offices in Ohio than Romney's campaign did.[5] Before the election, Romney's campaign staffers even dismissed the significance of that imbalance. But afterward it was clear that is what defeated Romney. Turnout by African Americans in 2008 to vote for Obama was very high, totaling 11% of the electorate in Ohio. But with the Democrats' better ground game, they increased that turnout further in 2012, to where African American voters for Obama totaled 15% of all Ohio voters. This illustrated the famous aphorism: "all politics is local." Romney was beaten by Obama's superior ground game in Ohio and other key states.

The bottom line is this: it is no longer enough to win for someone to merely be sure to vote himself. To save our Nation, it is essential that concerned citizens themselves vote AND repeatedly ask many other like-minded people to vote too. If, for example, each pro-lifer repeatedly asked ten other like-minded persons to vote and followed up with them to confirm that they did vote, then a complete ban on federally-funded abortion could be enacted.[6]

Other Reasons for Romney's Loss

There are other reasons, both in campaign tactics and in substance, that might explain Romney's loss. Indeed, most students in this class predicted weeks ago that Romney would lose, even though Romney was ahead in the polls during periods in October.

One possible reason for Romney losing was how he handled the important final debate. He intentionally appeared friendlier and more conciliatory in his attempt to win support of more women voters, and indicated that he agreed with Obama on several positions. Obama's approval rating then improved and most people thought he won the debate, because even his sharpest critic (Romney) seemed in agreement with him. The slight improvement in Obama's approval rating, from about 48% to 50%, may have meant the difference between Romney winning or losing. Obama received a vote total of 50%, exactly the same as his approval rating. Had Obama's rating stayed at 48%, then his final vote total may have been only 48%, and he may have lost. This was an illustration of why a political candidate should not agree with the incumbent he is trying to defeat.

Likewise, the praise of Obama by Republican Governor Chris Christie in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy had the effect of boosting Obama's approval rating, and his final vote percentage. Indeed, New Jersey is one of the very few states in which Obama's vote total improved in 2012 over what he received in 2008. If even the top Republican in the State thinks Obama is doing a good job, then many others will be affected by this.

Hurricane Sandy itself may have helped Obama, creating a crisis that causes people to unite behind the leader in office, regardless of whether he is doing a good job or not.

Others cite some of the positions taken by Romney and Obama during the campaign. Hispanics voted in favor of Obama in large percentages, much larger than Democrats received in the past, and some have attributed that to the Republican position against amnesty for illegal aliens who came here from Mexico.

Then there is the simple likability issue that many students cited about a month ago. Voters, particularly women, never liked Romney much. It is unlikely that someone will vote for an unlikable candidate.

Congressional Races

Several billion dollars were spent on congressional and State races too.

Initiative and Referendum

More than a hundred million dollars was spent on political ads concerning initiatives and referenda, which are when the people vote directly on a proposed law. If a majority of the people vote for it, then it becomes law.[7]

Initiatives and referenda are examples of direct democracy: the people making law by their votes in an election, rather than representatives making law for them.


An "initiative" is when the people put a proposed law directly on the ballot themselves, by obtaining enough signatures beforehand on a petition to do this. South Dakota was the first state to allow this, beginning in 1898 (more than 100 years ago). Now 24 states (not New Jersey) allow the passage of new laws by the initiative process.[8] Sometimes people can even amend their state constitution this way.

The basic characteristic of an "initiative" is that it is initiated by the people, by obtaining thousands of signatures on a petition. There are two types of initiatives: direct and indirect.

In a "direct initiative," once enough signatures for a petition for a new law are obtained, then it goes directly on the ballot after review by a state government official. In an "indirect initiative," the proposal is first submitted to the state legislature to give it a chance to enact the law. If the legislature does not enact it, then the initiative goes on the ballot for the people to decide. But in an indirect initiative, the legislature may put a competing law on the ballot alongside the one proposed by the people. States that use the indirect initiative process are Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada and Ohio. In two states, Utah and Washington, the people may initiate direct or indirect initiatives.

The steps for an initiative, in the states that allow it (New Jersey does not allow this), include first presenting the petition to a state official for his review and authorization to begin collecting signatures on it, along with a title and summary for the new law. The time-consuming, labor-intensive process of obtaining those signatures, which may take months. Submission of the signatures to a state official prior to deadline for him to confirm that enough signatures were obtained in order to qualify for the ballot.


A referendum has two types: a legislative referendum and a popular referendum. The plural of referendum, because it is Latin, is "referenda".

A legislative referendum is a bill put by the state legislature on the ballot for a vote by the people. A popular referendum is when the people exercise their right to approve or repeal a bill that the legislature has already passed.

New Jersey does have the legislative referendum when the legislature seeks to amend the state constitution, or in circumstances relating to increasing the debt of state government. The legislature cannot amend the state constitution by itself; a legislative referendum is needed in order to change the state constitution. Also, the New Jersey Constitution requires the state to balance the budget each year, so a legislative referendum is needed to approve incurring new long-term debt (as in issuing bonds).

All 50 states have procedures allowing legislative referendum.

The popular referendum is very different. It allows the people to repeal a law recently passed by the legislature. If the people gather enough signatures within a period of time after a legislature passes a new law -- typically 90 days -- then the law is placed on the ballot for a public vote. The law may not go into effect until the people vote on it. Most of the states that allow initiatives by the people regardless of whether the legislature passed the law, also allow the people to veto a law recently passed by the legislature through this mechanism of the popular referendum. In total, 24 states (not New Jersey) allow the popular referendum. Most of these states are in the Midwest and West.


Initiatives and referenda originated in the Progressive Era of the early 20th century. Many students instinctively like this concept. It bypasses the special interest groups and lobbyists, and lets the people make a decision themselves about what is good. And on some issues, what a majority of the people want is a good thing. But often it is not, and the Founders of our Nation opposed a pure democracy. Recall what Ron Paul said at the outset of this lecture: "pure democracy is dangerous."

There are many examples of when the majority view of the people is not what is best for the Nation. When a proposed law to increase the minimum wage is put on the ballot for a vote by the people, it wins nearly every time because most people do not understand economics.[9] They think that laws increasing the minimum wage make people better off, because they make more money at their jobs. Most people do not realize that a higher minimum wage results in more unemployment, because businesses cannot hire as many people. A higher minimum wage also results in fewer young people going to college, because they decide to make more money working instead. Some of those young people would have been better off by going to college and obtaining a better job later.

The States of Colorado and Washington had initiatives on their ballots this Election Day to make it legal for people to smoke marijuana. Most people voted for these initiatives, so they became law, but the result will be very harmful for society. There will be more drivers on the road who are on drugs and hurt other people due to accidents. There will be more crime resulting from the drug use, and more students will drop out of school or lose their job because they became addicted to the drugs. There will be more health problems, as drug use has been associated with increased brain tumors and other serious problems. What the majority of the people approved is not what is best for society, and this illustrates why the Founders opposed a democracy. Elected representatives would not have approved these laws that the people passed.

In New Jersey, the people voted to allow state colleges to go into debt amounting to $750 million, despite already being in enormous debt. This will likely result increased tuition in the future, but the people voted for it because they thought it would improve education for students.


One more type of "citizen democracy" is the "recall" of public officials from office, which enables the people to gather signatures to hold a special election to vote on whether to remove a state official from office before the expiration of his term. At least 29 states, including New Jersey, allow some form of recalling state or local officials.[10]

Earlier this year, unions angry at Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker attempted to recall him from office. They collected enough signatures, but when the special election was held, Governor Walker won a majority of the vote. His reelection was helped by the raising and spending of $63 million in support of him during the campaign leading up to the recall election.

Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California after the Democrat, Gray Davis, was recalled and removed from office in 2003. Prior to that, the only time a governor was recalled from office was in 1921, in North Dakota.

But many officials other than governor can be recalled from office by this procedure of gathering enough signatures to hold a special election. In New Jersey, the governor has never been recalled, but other officials have been. The New Jersey Constitution provides:

The section of the New Jersey Constitution that authorizes recall says:

"The people reserve unto themselves the power to recall, after at least one year of service, any elected official in this State or representing this State in the United States Congress. The Legislature shall enact laws to provide for such recall elections. Any such laws shall include a provision that a recall election shall be held upon petition of at least 25% of the registered voters in the electoral district of the official sought to be recalled. If legislation to implement this constitutional amendment is not enacted within one year of the adoption of the amendment, the Secretary of State shall, by regulation, implement the constitutional amendment, except that regulations adopted by the Secretary of State shall be superseded by any subsequent legislation consistent with this constitutional amendment governing recall elections. The sufficiency of any statement of reasons or grounds procedurally required shall be a political rather than a judicial question.

The process to recall a state official in New Jersey is this:

No sooner than 50 days before the completion of the state official's first year in office, a recall committee of at least three people may form and submit to the state a short petition to recall the petition. The state official must respond within three business days, and also notify the incumbent that there is an effort to recall him. If the petition is approved, then the recall committee must obtain signatures of other registered voters over the next 160 days (320 days to recall the governor). The number of signatures must be at least 25% of the registered voters in the relevant jurisdiction in the last general election. Those signatures are then turned in to the state election official, who must determine within 10 days whether enough signatures were obtained.

In 2010, your instructor argued a case before the New Jersey Supreme Court to establish a right to recall a U.S. Senator by this procedure. Several students attended the oral argument in Trenton, and the gallery was overflowing. But by a 4-2 vote, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the provision in the New Jersey Constitution allowing the recall of federal officials, specifically U.S. Senators, was unconstitutional. The Court held that the U.S. Constitution does not permit the recall, by a vote of the people, federally elected officials.

Lame Duck Congress

Fiscal Cliff

What is next for the political parties?

Remember that politics is a team sport, and the biggest teams are the political parties: Republicans and Democrats.

The "smoke-filled room" is a term used to describe a few powerful people smoking cigars who make all the important political decisions within each political party. Then the orders go out to everyone else in the party to obey, or else lose support from the party for reelection.

At the top of the party structure is a national committee. For the Republicans, it is the Republican National Committee, which raises enormous sums of money and otherwise sets direction for the party.


Most citizens 18 and over can vote in America. Some states prohibit persons convicted of felonies from voting (do you agree with that rule)?

Millions, however, do not bother to vote. In presidential elections every four years, only about half of Americans vote. In non-presidential elections, the percent who vote is usually smaller. Next week, November 6th, is election day in New Jersey, but relatively few will take the time to vote.

School board elections typically have very low “turnout”, which refers to the percentage of eligible voters who actually vote. Often these elections are decided by a few hundred votes, or less.

It is easy to find friends or relatives who do not vote, and you can ask them why. It can be laziness, or a feeling that their votes do not matter. Elections are rarely decided by one vote (though sometimes they are, to the chagrin of those who did not vote). It takes time and effort to vote, and some feel they do not receive anything in return. A popular sentiment, particularly among the young, is that it does not matter which side is elected. But often it does matter a great deal.

It is necessary to register to vote before actually voting, and that can be an annoying obstacle. A large percentage of Americans move each year, and they can only vote if they register at their new address. State laws typically prohibit registration close to Election Day. Rather, a citizen may have to register 30 days or more prior to an election in order to be eligible to vote. Some states use voter registration as the basis for ordering people to serve on juries, and some avoid voting in order to escape jury duty. But that excuse does not work in most places, as drivers license registration is now typically used.

Voter registration in most states consists of providing your name and address and listing yourself as a “Republican”, “Democrat”, “Independent” or a third party. This is typically public information, available to anyone who wants to look you up. In some states, like Virginia, voters do not register with a party affiliation that is available to the public. When conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who lives in Virginia, was appointed to the Supreme Court, no one could find out his party affiliation. Do you think this should be public information?

Those who have busy schedules or travel may find it inconvenient to go to a polling booth on Election Day, possibly wait in line, simply to cast a ballot in a typical election. But being busy is not a good excuse either; there is rarely a waiting line to vote anymore. Absentee ballots are available for those who will be out of town.

Why isn’t voting made more convenient? There are many good reasons why voting is not made easier:

1. Voter fraud is an enormous problem, and always has been. There is very little checking of records, and some areas of the country (like Chicago) are notorious for having votes cast in the names of people who are dead. The easier it is to vote, the more fraud there will be. In Oregon, citizens can now simply mail in their vote without ever appearing at a polling place. This system was designed to increased turnout above 80% in 2000. How does anyone know who really filled out the ballot?

2. Easier voting means more voting by uniformed people. If someone won’t take the trouble to go to a polling booth, then it’s unlikely they will bother to learn the issues either. What’s the point in encouraging uninformed citizens to vote? It’s difficult to see what value they add to the process.

3. Easier voting procedures may not boost turnout over the long term. People alienated by the political system will not vote regardless of how easy it is. Certain religious groups, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not believe in participating in the political process. That will not change.

The debacle in Florida in 2000, when a few hundred votes decided who would be president, woke up many Americans to what can happen when they do not vote. By 2002, conservatives in Florida heard the message and reelected Jeb Bush in a surprisingly large landslide. The citizens turned out in droves to prevent a repeat of the prior election.


There are two major types of elections: the “primary” and the “general election.” Each state holds its primary many months prior to its final or general election. The primary chooses the nominees of the political parties who will be on the ballot in the general election.

Except for school board and special elections, the general election is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This is the day the president is elected every four years; this is when congressmen are elected every two years.

New Jersey and Virginia hold elections every year on this day, even odd-numbered years like 2003 and 2007, but most states only hold elections in even-numbered years. The theory is that New Jersey and Virginia hold yearly elections keep the political machines working all the time.

To be on the ballot in November, a candidate has to win his party’s nomination in the prior “primary”. There are two types of primaries: “open” and “closed”.

In an open primary, any voter can vote in a party’s election to choose the nominee. For example, a Democrat could go to the polling booth and request a Republican ballot to pick the Republican nominee for the general election.

New Hampshire has an open primary system. Every four years, it holds the first presidential primary in the country. It insists on being the first, in order to maximize its influence. In the past few elections, Iowa has tried to steal this limelight by holding caucuses earlier (Jan. 19th), in which party members travel to special meetings (in frigid weather) to vote on candidates. Because these are typically party diehards rather than the general public, this has not been as influential. This year, top Democratic contenders Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark have announced they will skip Iowa entirely. In 2000, John McCain also skipped it but then won the primary in New Hampshire.

Because New Hampshire is an open primary, Independents can cross-over into the Democratic and Republican primaries and pick their candidate. Many flocked to the Republican side in 2000 and voted for John McCain, to the chagrin of the Republican Party regulars who favored George W. Bush. McCain then beat Bush in the Republican primary in New Hampshire by receiving a large number of votes by citizens registered as Independents.

Closed primaries do not permit this. They restrict their primaries to voters who are registered in their party. For example, closed Republican primaries only permit registered Republicans to vote; closed Democratic primaries only permit registered Democrats to vote.

George W. Bush won the Republican nomination in 2000 because he easily beat McCain in the closed primaries, which many states (like New York) have. McCain was able to win after New Hampshire in a few other open primary states in the North, like Michigan, but McCain could not win closed primaries or some open primaries in the South, like South Carolina. Bush won the nomination and the presidency despite losing the first primary in New Hampshire.

That is unusual. New Hampshire has historically been a good predictor of who will win the White House. However, Clinton also won the presidency despite losing in New Hampshire. He was besieged by scandals and beaten there by former Democratic Senator Paul Tsongas. But Clinton was much stronger in the South and won big there.

Will the candidates who win New Hampshire be able to win the South?


Answer the first five questions, and then two of the remaining three, for a total of seven questions:

1. Why do you think Obama defeated Romney? Explain.
2. Explain the difference between an "initiative" and a "referendum"
3. Explain what a "recall" is, including an example.
4. In which direction do you think the Republican National Committee (RNC) should take in order to improve its election results in 2014 and 2016?

Extra credit (answer two of the following five questions):

9. Do you think the U.S. Constitution prevents the people of New Jersey from recalling a U.S. Senator? Discuss.
10. The Republican Party has lost the popular vote in presidential elections in 5 out of the last 6 elections. Do you think the Republican Party can win the presidency in 2016?
13. Discuss any topic in this lecture.

You can post your answers at American Government Homework Eight.


  3. 3.0 3.1
  6. The Hyde Amendment is a partial ban on federal funding of abortions.
  7. In Florida a super-majority of 60% is required to change the constitution.
  9. A rare exception was in 1996 in Missouri, when a minimum wage referendum in Missouri was defeated "overwhelmingly." [1]