College of Liberal Arts

Elections 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - In the Elections 2012 blog, experts from across The University of Texas at Austin will weigh in on the politics and the issues, from the economy, the environment and demographics to immigration, energy, social change and more.

Obama’s Re-election Chances by the Numbers

By Daniel Hamermesh
Published: July 23

Dan HamermeshFor over 30 years my friend and former colleague Ray Fair of Yale University has been using economic and other measures to predict the outcomes of Presidential elections. His research shows that being an incumbent helps a candidate get elected. Being of the party that has held the White House for additional terms beyond the first hurts a candidate. Each extra quarter-year since the last Presidential election (15 quarters possible) that the economy has grown faster per capita than a certain, quite rapid rate (3.2 percent per annum) helps the incumbent, as does slower price inflation over the past 15 quarters.  The faster that economic growth in the three quarters before the election is, the more help to the incumbent party.

Read the full blog post.

Anxiety in political advertising

By Christopher Palmer
Published: May 4

Bethany AlbertsonIn this eighth conversation of our elections series, Bethany Albertson, assistant professor of government, discusses how political candidates use advertising to incite a range of emotions in voters and what voters can expect heading into the general election.

Albertson's work explores political attitudes and persuasion. Her current research relies on surveys and experiments to examine the effect of religious appeals in American politics and the relationship between emotion and cognition, with a recent focus on the role of anxiety on attitudes towards immigration.

Visit Know to watch the video.

President Barack Obama, the ladies’ man

By Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto
Published: May 1

Victoria M. DeFrancesco SotoIn this new Elections 2012 blog post, Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, a visiting scholar in the Department of Government and LBJ School of Public Affairs, shares some insight into President Barack Obama's appeal to female voters and what women want in our next president.

Visit Know to read the blog.

The voting trends of women

By Christopher Palmer
Published: April 6

Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto

In this sixth conversation of our elections series, Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, visiting scholar in the Department of Government and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discusses the voting trends of women and how women are mobilizing around specific issues for this year’s election season.

Visit Know to watch the video.


On religion and politics

By Christopher Palmer
Published: March 27

Tom Tweed

In this fifth conversation of our elections series, Tom Tweed, professor of religious studies, discusses religion, its role in politics and its impact on this year’s election season.

Visit Know to listen to the podcast.

Beauty and the 2012 presidential race

By Daniel Hamermesh
Published: March 26

Dan HamermeshMany observers have remarked upon how good-looking some of the presidential candidates are, with comments made throughout the race about Mitt Romney and, late last summer, about Governor Rick Perry.

As Perry’s experience shows, looks aren’t everything.

In fact, a broad array of research on the role of beauty in politics shows that looks matter less and less the more important the race is.

They do matter in low-level races — I guess we prefer to elect good- over bad-looking dog-catchers. But the more voters care about an election and learn about the candidates, the less important looks become.

Looks matter even less when there is an incumbent in the race. Presumably with an incumbent running people focus more on his or her successes and failures and less on superficial characteristics like looks.

Those research results, too, suggest that the candidates’ looks in this year’s presidential election will just not be an important issue.

Marketing emotion and micro-targeting through political ads

By Christopher Palmer
Published: March 20

Victoria M. DeFrancesco SotoVictoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is a Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, a visiting scholar in the Department of Government and director of communications for Latino Decisions.

In this video, DeFrancesco Soto discusses the similarities between consumer marketing and political marketing, as well as how political ad campaigns might use micro-targeting to reach specific demographics.

Visit Know to watch the video.

After Super Tuesday: Bigger is better

By Jeremi Suri
Published: March 7

jeremi suriMitt Romney’s victories in six of the ten Republican primaries on “Super Tuesday” solidified his position as the leader in his party’s race for the presidential nomination, but it also confirmed his weaknesses. He did not win decisively where it counted, especially in the battleground state of Ohio, where Romney edged Rick Santorum by 1 percent and only a little more than 10,000 votes. Santorum also generated enthusiastic victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. Romney continues to confront strong Republican opposition to his candidacy, and his challengers will surely remain in the race through the early summer. Romney’s delegate count remains low at 404: far from the 1,144 he needs to lock up control of the Republican nomination and avoid a deadlocked convention in August.

Visit Know to read the full blog.

Foreign policy won’t impact the 2012 election? Think again

By Peter Trubowitz
Published: Feb. 27

Peter TrubowitzPeter Trubowitz is a professor of government who specializes in international relations and U.S. foreign policy. His latest book, “Politics and Strategy: Partisan Ambition and American Statecraft,” provides a sweeping analysis of grand strategies and the politics behind them.

In this election cycle, if there is one thing political analysts seem to agree on, it’s that foreign policy doesn’t matter. All eyes are fixed on the economy and on whether President Obama can beat the odds by winning reelection during an economic downturn.

There is little question that pocketbook issues will dominate this November. But that doesn’t mean that Obama, or his Republican opponent, should ignore foreign policy. Indeed, Obama has good reason to do just the opposite. So do the Republicans.

Visit Know to read the full blog.

Watch the “Politics and Strategy” video series for more about Trubowitz’s research.

Surprises in the election campaign cycle so far

By Christopher Palmer
Published: Feb. 22

Bruce Buchanan

Government Professor Bruce Buchanan discusses what’s unusual about the Republican primaries, the power of negative advertising to change voter turnout and how the health of the national economy affects Obama’s chances at re-election with James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin.

Visit Know to watch the video.

The art and science of political ads

By Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto
Published: Feb. 20

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is a Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, a visiting scholar in the Department of Government and Director of Communications for Latino Decisions.

Victoria M. DeFrancesco SotoThe handsome mariachi singer reminds us that, "it doesn't matter if we're from San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Dallas, The Valley, Houston, or El Paso, what matters is that we vote for Obama because his struggle is our struggle." The Viva Obama ad goes on to show Latino Texans in their homes, at rallies, and at their places of work all singing along with the chorus line "Viva Obama." 

The "Viva Obama" ad that aired in the lead up to the 2008 Texas primary is phenomenal and not just because of its chorus line that is near impossible to get out of your head. The ad is so good because it micro-targets down to the sub-sub-group level.  The message was directed to a very specific audience, Latino Texans, Tejanos.  At the same time, the ad recognized the regional differences among Latino Texans highlighting a nuanced sensitivity, while calling on Tejanos to put aside these differences and come together in support of Barack Obama. 

Visit Know to read the full blog.

Independent voter myths, super PACs and more

By Christopher Palmer
Published: Feb. 15

Daron ShawIn this video, Government Professor Daron Shaw talks about the trouble with super PACs, independent swing voters and predictions on the 2012 presidential and Senate elections.

An experienced survey research analyst and political strategist, Shaw serves on the editorial board for American Politics Research. He co-authored the book “Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters” and teaches classes in the College of Liberal Arts on Campaigns and Elections, Political Parties, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior and more.

The consequences of Romney’s proposed minimum wage hike

By Daniel Hamermesh
Published: Feb. 9

Dan HamermeshDaniel Hamermesh is the Sue Killam Professor in the Foundations of Economics. A nationally known labor economist, Hamermesh specializes in social programs, the economic benefits of beauty, academic labor markets and unusual applications in everyday life.

Poor Mitt Romney. He has been vilified by the Republican right this week for reiterating a position he took in 2008 that he favors indexing the minimum wage (having it rise each year with inflation). This position goes counter to the usual Republican ideology that the minimum wage should be abolished.

I don’t like the minimum wage — it does kill jobs, especially among youths and minorities — although not very many. It generates more heat relative to its importance than practically any other social/economic policy. Democrats have to love it to curry favor and obtain money from trade unions; Republicans have to hate it to curry favor and obtain money from small business interests. Visit Know to read the full blog.

Hispanic voters affect GOP strategy

By Mason Jones
Published Feb. 2
Elections videoIn this video conversation of our elections series, Assistant Professor of Government Jason Casellas and Texas Politics Project Director James Henson discuss the impact of Hispanic voters as a growing force on presidential election strategy.

Casellas specializes in American politics, with specific research and teaching interests in Latino politics, legislative politics, and state and local politics.

Read the feature story "Representing the Barrio and Beyond" for more about Casellas' research.

Riding the Florida primary momentum

By Jeremi Suri
Published: Feb. 1

jeremi suriMitt Romney’s big victory in the Florida Primary cements his position as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. It also confirms that the debates among Republicans will continue. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul have all vowed to stay in the race. They have the money and the organization to do this. They also have the committed followers to make it possible.

Romney’s big win contains a big weakness. Adding the total votes in Florida, almost as many Republicans voted against Romney as those who voted for him. In a state that strongly favors his organization and money, he could not convince a majority of the voters in his party that he should be their nominee. More than 50 percent of those who went to the polls do not think he is sufficiently conservative, Christian, or charismatic for their tastes. More than 50 percent of those who went to the polls still want someone other than Romney as the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama. Visit Know to read the full blog.

The rallying cry of Newt Gingrich

By Mason Jones
Published: Jan. 24

Elections videoIn this video, political analysts James Henson and Sean Theriault discuss the rise of Newt Gingrich as a viable presidential candidate for the Republican Party.

James Henson is a lecturer in the Department of Government and directs the Texas Politics Project, which seeks to educate students and Texans about state government, politics and history through a dynamic website and speaker series. It also conducts regular statewide issues and political polls.

Sean Theriault, associate professor of government in the university’s College of Liberal Arts, studies American political institutions, primarily U.S. Congress and party polarization. He is researching the rise of the so-called “Gingrich Senators” and their influence on the U.S. Senate.

And then there were four

By Jeremi Suri
Published: Jan. 23

Elections video

Newt Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina primary exposes a fact that Republicans have tried to hide. The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan does not have a credible candidate to challenge President Barack Obama. This is ironic considering President Obama’s profound vulnerabilities. He is not very popular. Unfortunately for Republicans, their party has clearly failed to promote a candidate who can mobilize people for an alternative. South Carolina proved that none of the Republican candidates can build a consensus in their own party. They have no chance with a much larger and far more diverse national electorate.

It is hard to see how any of the four remaining Republican candidates can secure the party’s nomination. Gingrich won South Carolina among extreme partisans in one of the country’s poorest states. He faces irreconcilable opposition from the establishment and mainstream of the party. No one who has observed his erratic behavior up-close, particularly during his ignominious period as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, will tolerate a replay of that nightmare. Although Gingrich can rant about his opponents, his appeal is confined to extremes.

The same can be said for Rick Santorum. He, of course, appeals to the most religious parts of the Republican Party. He has little following beyond that. South Carolina also showed that religious voters will frequently grant privilege to other issues in these difficult economic times. Santorum’s followers are motivated, but they are a distinct minority, even among strong Republican loyalists. Visit Know for the full blog. 

Stay tuned for more expert analysis of Elections 2012.