Well another election cycle is over and done; Obama got re-elected and the Democrats picked up meager gains in the Senate and House. Now that the smoke is starting to clear and people are returning to their less partisan lifestyles there appear to be two election narratives emerging, not surprisingly dictated from the left and the right. The left has pitched the election as a victory for truth, science, and math, painting the GOP and their supporters as stuck in a bubble or alternate universe while the right has portrayed the election as heralding a changed America with demographics shifting to a much more diverse and secular country. Before tackling these two narratives let’s take a look at one other that will most likely be washed from history.
Before the election several, hell, damn near all, Republican pundits were predicting a Romney win, possibly with a landslide. Now that that clearly didn’t happen they have had to find an excuse and most often they turn to Sandy, the “October surprise.” Dick Morris, the now-hated scapegoat of false hopes, said that he was essentially right about his Romney landslide prediction as he made it before the hurricane hit. Others have expressed similar views about the hurricane yet if you were following the polling data Sandy did not do too much. Obama steadily built back his lead after the first debate and pretty much ended the election where they kicked it off. When Dick Morris made his prediction Obama was leading in the polls, especially in the swing states, so he would have still been wrong.
Instead of following Morris’ lead and blaming the weather, most GOP talking heads have seen the election as being decided by urban and minority voters representing a demographic shift that the party must respond to in order to stay alive. Within a couple days Sean Hannity came out in support of immigration reform to allow for amnesty, believing that this is the main issue for Hispanics. Other Republicans have followed suit and only more time will tell if this will create a genuine (perhaps unbreachable) schism or whether it will truly become the party’s future. Despite this seemingly shallow outreach, the pundits are correct, the GOP’s base is dwindling while the Dem base is growing. They’re flat wrong however when they say that this is the culmination of changing demographics, instead it’s the changing policy of the GOP. That’s where the left-wing narrative takes over.
Liberal pundits, and some conservatives, have for a long time put forward the idea that the right wing lives in an alternative universe. In this bubble everything is seen through the lens of far-right mythology with perhaps the most obvious example being conservapedia, the right-wing alternative to wikipedia which they claim has a liberal bias. Even the limits of conservapedia were tested however when Sarah Palin claimed that Paul Revere was riding to warn the British. They chose to whitewash her statement rather than re-write history. The bubble and reality however, did manage to converge on election night. Pollsters like Nate Silver and Drew Linzer, doing basic statistical analyses of all the polls coming in pretty much nailed the outcome. In the run-up however, conservatives insisted that their polling models were inaccurate by oversampling Democrats based on the 2008 turnout model as opposed to the 2004. They insisted on a different reality instead based on a sort of soft conspiracy by the liberal media. We learned that while the media may lean left, so does reality.
These two narratives are by no means mutually exclusive; in many ways they support each other. The fact that Republican pollsters were insisting on the 2004 voter turnout model for more accuracy shows that they were out of touch with a larger demographic shift. Furthermore, while the ethnic make-up of the country is changing, the Republicans have also radicalized to form their own world which is often quite exclusionary and lionizes an era of greater cultural and racial homogeneity. By diverging from reality into the strictest ideals of their base they have lost track of what it actually takes to win an election in a two-party system.
Of course these narratives hardly explain the entire election. There were a whole series of gaffes and triumphs from both sides that undoubtedly had some cumulative effect nor should the personalities and running mates of the candidates be completely tossed aside. Of course the most important point here is how HBO will portray the election. Recently they gave us “Recount” as the story of 2000 and “Game Change” for 2008 with Sarah Palin as the main focus. What will be the focus of the movie for this election? If you had asked me a year ago I might have said the super PACs but now I think it will be when universes collide.