Campaign 2012: Romney needs more voters

January 6th, 2012

The following opinion piece was written by journalism professor Fred Bayles, a former USA Today and AP reporter. He is also the director of BU’s State House Program.

We live in a society that – at least from a media point of view – needs winners and losers. We don’t like indeterminate conclusions. No ties in baseball, football, basketball (hockey is the exception, but we’re compensated for ties with bloodshed on the ice).

So it is no mystery why the media keeps referencing Mitt Romney’s “narrow victory” in Iowa. Eight votes is narrow? A statistical dead heat with Rick Santorum, and the 2008 version of Mitt Romney, is a victory? The truth is Romney could never get more than one out of four Iowa voters to dance with him. The rest kept shuffling up and down the ballroom floor looking for an anybody-but-Mitt partner.

Clearly, Romney needs more voters. He should find more of them in New Hampshire, but since everyone is proclaiming him the winner, he’s going to need a convincing margin. He’s also going to need more voters in South Carolina. And he’s going to need more candidates to stick around.

Smaller voter turnouts can skew results. A strong turnout by, say devoted Ron Paul followers, can have a significant effect if the rest of the citizenry isn’t all that interested in voting. We’ve seen this phenomenon before when a local group of zealots turns out like-minded voters to install a school board that matches their agenda on education or social issues. If the rest of us don’t care, a minority can have sway at the polls. So Mitt needs to get out the vote in New Hampshire to prevent a Ron Paul showing. And he needs to get out the vote in South Carolina where he is not beloved.

But Romney needs more than votes. He needs more candidates to run. Iowa showed us what can happen when a large swath of voters seeks out someone other than the front runner. Iowa was a wild game of spin-the-bottle, where each week the bottle landed on a new alternative candidate, who then lost support from negative ads and media revelations about what those candidates actually said or did. Still, some voters still stuck with their past sweethearts. Herman Cain got 54 votes even though he was out of the race. Think what would happen if eight or more of those votes went to Rick Santorum.

Michelle Bachmann is out of the race, but her supporters won’t necessarily move on to Romney. They will probably subdivide among Perry, Gingrich and Santorum. Even the measly 5 percent Bachmann took in Iowa could make a real or perceptive difference if they were to all stick onto another candidate. If Rick Perry were to drop out (an unlikely prospect at this point) where would his 10 percent go? Not a lot to Romney, I would bet.

So if Romney is to escape more “narrow” victories, he should be hoping and praying that Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum continue to run and continue to divide that any-one-but Mitt vote. Maybe he could offer them $10,000 to stay in the race.

Contact Bayles at 617-353-7736; fbayles@bu.edu

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