Three Election Myths Busted by Obama’s Re-Election

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s victory today instantly destroys three myths of this election.

Pocketbook issues are decisive.

Throughout the year, the economy and jobs were the top concerns of voters. And until the end, polls gave Mitt Romney much better marks than Obama on the question of which candidate would better handle the economy and create jobs.

It turns out that voters placed a greater premium on other qualities and picked the candidate they thought would be “on the side of people like me” and would “be better for the middle class.”

The last time a president was re-elected when the unemployment rate was above 7.2 percent was 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt won big. Republicans thought Obama would be like Jimmy Carter in 1980 -- wiped out by a bad economy. But Carter’s opponent, Ronald Reagan, wasn’t perceived as out of touch. Maybe next time, Republicans won’t nominate a candidate who has a car elevator in his house.

Aerial assaults beat ground troops.

For generations, campaign fundraising and strategy have revolved around TV ads. We had a bumper crop of them this year -- and they were overwhelmingly negative on both sides -- but they are no longer dominant.

Obama decided that he would spend most of his early money building the largest and most sophisticated political organization in U.S. history -- a new Digital Machine in the Chicago home of the old Daley Machine.

Romney, in part out of necessity (the Republican primary contests), opted for a huge aerial bombardment after Labor Day. With the help of more than $300 million in ads by so-called super-PACs, he bet that voters still get most of their information from TV commercials during their favorite shows.

Yet the combination of new technology (people have more ways to skip ads) and the focus on just a handful of battleground states meant that pro-Romney forces quickly hit a saturation point. Never have so many rich men wasted so much money so quickly.

Obama’s crack field organization compensated for what had appeared to be a decrease in enthusiasm this year compared with 2008. By also developing a successful small-donor program that gave ordinary citizens a stake in the process, Obama struck a blow for grassroots, small “d” democracy over TV ads.

U.S. democracy is seamless.

The Soviet-style three-hour lines at polling places in several areas are disgusting and depressing. Voting is a sacred right. No one should have to wait that long. Shouldn’t we be able to agree on that?

In a second term, Obama can help repair democratic traditions that were trampled on in this election.

(Jonathan Alter is a columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)

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