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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

4 Issues per year

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Volume 10, Issue 4


How the Romney Campaign Blew it

William G. Mayer
Published Online: 2013-02-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0005


Political scientists have generally been skeptical that presidential campaigns have a significant effect on the final outcome of a presidential election. But 2012, this article argues, was an exception. By all the indicators that political scientists traditionally look to, 2012 had long shaped up to be a very close election. That Mitt Romney lost was due largely to the remarkably inept quality of his campaign, which largely avoided any serious discussion of the issues, even when such discussion would have worked to his advantage.


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About the article

William G. Mayer

William G. Mayer is a professor of political science at Northeastern University. His major areas of research and writing include the presidential nominating process, presidential elections, public opinion, and media and politics. The author would like to thank Matthew Dickinson, James Campbell, and Natalie Mayer for their help in writing this article.

Corresponding author: William G. Mayer, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA

Received: 2012-12-20

Accepted: 2012-12-26

Published Online: 2013-02-09

I use the June results because in a fair number of early election years, Gallup did not ask the presidential approval question between June and November.

These questions, it should be added, probably overestimate Bush’s standing with the American public, since they measure personal favorability rather than job performance. Through Bush’s final years in office, his favorability ratings were always higher than his approval ratings. That is to say, many Americans considered Bush “a nice guy” but an incompetent president.

He might, for example, have said that Bush increased domestic spending, while he would cut it; or that Bush had enacted several major tax cuts that the nation could not afford, while his tax reforms would be revenue neutral. If Romney had been of a mind to be honest, he could also have promised that if he were required to send US troops into a combat situation, he would plan the postwar occupation far better than Bush had in Iraq.

It is also a largely inaccurate description of how Ronald Reagan operated. While it is true that Reagan provided few specifics about his tax reform plan during his 1984 re-election campaign, he had, in 1980 when he was not an incumbent, offered a quite specific list of the major items in his tax-cut plan – and, once elected, he tried his best to get that plan enacted into law, though he did accept some changes and compromises.

As quoted in Neustadt (1955), p. 1015.

The final RCP average had Obama beating Romney by 0.8%. His actual margin of victory was slightly less than 3%.

In 1994, I helped do issues research (on an unpaid basis) for Romney’s Senate campaign.

Citation Information: The Forum, Volume 10, Issue 4, Pages 40–50, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0005.

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