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This post is the summary of six posts on demographics and the election at

The 2008 electorate was unlike any in American history. Whites represented just 74% of the electorate and the burgeoning non-white vote offered 81% of its support to Obama. There is no guarantee that non-white voters will turnout and support Obama as they did in 2008, but the best evidence suggests that they will, especially since demographic changes will mitigate or potentially outweigh possible reductions in non-white turnout rates.

If the non-white vote supports Obama to the extent it did in 2008, Romney will need to compensate by holding Obama to 38% of the white vote. In the modern political era, it has taken extraordinary circumstances for Democrats to do so poorly. The last Democratic candidate to fall so low was Walter Mondale, who only won 35% of the white vote in 1984. Even Michael Dukakis won 40% of the white vote in 1988. In 2010, House Democrats only won 37% of the white vote, demonstrating that Romney's task is not unachievable, even if the House GOP benefited from a relatively friendly electorate.

Although a Romney victory may require an extraordinary performance with white voters, anemic economic growth, high unemployment, and abysmal right/wrong track numbers suggest 2012 may indeed be extraordinary. After all, the fundamentals are not appreciably better than they were in 2010, when the House GOP blazed the demographic trail that Romney will try and follow in 2012.

While the environment could be conducive to an extraordinary GOP performance among whites in 2012, such a performance will still be exceptionally challenging. After all, there is a reason why fatally flawed candidates like Dukakis and Kerry managed to reach 40% of the white vote, or why Mondale still received 35%; such weak performances require Democrats to lose voters who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.

Recent polling from Pew Research clarifies the profile of the critical white swing voters necessary for Romney to overcome Obama's edge with non-white voters.  Unfortunately for GOP chances, Romney's fate rests with unsympathetic groups, including white Democrats without a college degree who are skeptical of Obama's performance, and college-educated voters who approve of Obama's performance. Although I have framed these two groups in terms of education, women are disproportionately represented in both groups, which likely adds to Romney's challenge.

Another way to consider Romney’s challenge is in terms of the number of white voters who appear unwaveringly committed to Obama. Even at Obama's nadir in October and November 2011, when the President's approval rating dipped to the low-30s among white voters after the debt ceiling crisis and his failed jobs bill, Obama continued to receive 38% of the vote among white voters, since Democrats with deep reservations about the Obama administration remained willing to offer their support in a hypothetical general election match-up. According to recent polls, Obama already holds the critical 38% of white voters, even before including any undecided voters who may ultimately support his reelection.

These demographic shifts also underlie Romney's disadvantage in the electoral college. Obama's support among non-white voters has combined with enduring support among college educated whites to rejigger the electoral map, moving New Mexico firmly into the Obama column and leaving Nevada, Virginia, and Colorado leaning blue. These shifts have left Romney with an unenviable choice: either persuade college educated Obama supporters, or win the Upper Midwestern states that Republicans typically lose, like Wisconsin or Minnesota.

In this context, Obama's decision to invest in a massive ground operation is unsurprising. According to media reports, the Obama campaign has already spent more than one hundred million dollars building and maintaining the framework for massive voter registration, outreach, and eventually GOTV efforts. Given the polarized electorate and the clear relationship between demographics and Obama's chances, spending tremendous sums to ensure optimal turnout seems eminently advisable.

Similarly, Romney's chances would improve markedly if he made gains among non-white voters. The economy has disproportionately hurt Latino families, although policy choices may have foreclosed any opening. Consequently, the incipient GOP effort to craft an alternative to the DREAM Act is unsurprising, and neither is the possibility of a non-white male Vice Presidential candidate. It is easy to imagine the Republicans again needing a "game change" if Romney's appeal to non-white voters fails to resonate and Obama's share of the white vote exceeds 38% in August.

Given the prevailing political climate, it would be very unwise the dismiss the possibility of a Romney victory.  However, analysts should be honest about what Romney is trying to accomplish. He is in uncharted territory.

Let me emphasize that no principle or rule prevents Romney from conquering uncharted territory. No party received more than 60% of the Congressional vote since the 1820s... until 2010. The GOP has incrementally conquered uncharted territory since 1948, whether it was Goldwater's sweep of the Deep South after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act or Bush's victory in West Virginia. Entering and winning uncharted territory is nothing new and sometimes easy, at least in retrospect.

The problem for Romney is that the uncharted territory doesn't appear friendly, at least according to current polling, and that suggests Obama has a demographic advantage. From this perspective, Romney's victory path looks more like McCain's bid for Pennsylvania - a frontal assault on the nearest redoubt  - than Obama's deft bid for Virginia or Bush's for its western progeny. It is possible that we eventually view a Romney win in a state like Minnesota or Wisconsin in those terms, but the current polling does not yet point toward an opening.

If Romney pushes past George H.W. Bush’s share of the white vote and into a close race nationally, his path to the Presidency becomes increasingly difficult. After maximizing his share of white Republicans and genuine swing voters, Romney will need to trudge through Democratic-leaning whites. While many of these voters do not approve of the Obama administration, they currently appear willing to revert to their partisan leanings, perhaps even when Obama’s Presidency was at its lowest point.

The election is far away and exogenous factors, including the possibility that the economy relapses into another recession, could easily undermine the political status quo. However, even in this hostile political atmosphere, Obama appears to hold the requisite share of the white vote and is poised to repeat his historic performance among non-white voters. So long as the demographic contours of the race remain unchanged, Romney will remain deceptively close, but with victory slightly out of reach.


Originally posted to electionate on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 08:14 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Add NC to your list (20+ / 0-)

    where demographics may play to the President's advantage. Since Election Day 2008, when Obama won NC by just over 14,000 votes, registered voters in NC have changed as follows:

    - 31,013 White
    +19,457 Black
    + 22,740 Hispanic
    + 451 American Indian
    + 201,458 Other

    That's a trend that will make NC blue.

  •  And neither Dukakis nor Kerry could (10+ / 0-)

    draw on any reservoir of charisma.

    You couldn't imagine them "slow jamming the news," for example.

  •  Maybe.. but turnout is the key (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mookins, Dvalkure, BradyB

    Demographics don't mean doo doo if they don't come to the polls.

    With the economy the way it is and the number of people who have given up even looking for a job - the real UE rate being somewhere north of 15%.. with high gas prices..

    Given all that, you cannot tell me Obama can hope to bring out African Americans, Hispanics and young voters in the unprecedented numbers he did in 2008.  There's just no way.

    This will be an extremely close race.

    Romney began his campaign last night with his victory speech.  Go watch it on youtube.  He's going to hammer the president with failure to get the economy rolling again.. whether President Obama could have done anything or not is beside the point.  He will lose support from the demographic groups that brought him the win in 2008.  He has to.

    I agree electoral votes will be key.. But I think you are mistaken about Virginia at least..  Rasmussen just released a poll showing Romney up by 1 point (several point increase from last poll) and there was a recent Roanoke College poll that had Romney up by 6 points.

    GOP is showing registration gains in Iowa, W. Va..

    So, things are fluid at the very least.. it's going to be a nail biter, IMHO.

    •  turnout rates can decrease, but... (5+ / 0-)

      demographic trends mitigate if not overwhelm

      ex: suppose 25% of voting age eligible adults were non-white in 08...

      and that increases to 27% by 2012...

      then the drop off in non-white turnout must exceed the increase in the eligible population to reduce the non-white share of the electorate

      •  I could design an ad campaign (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dvalkure, wuod kwatch, ybruti

        to emphasize that the GOP used their 2010 wins to undercut DEM initiatives for the past two years.

        But the true reason to support BHO is to prevent the GOP from gaining one and possibly two more Justices on the SCOTUS.  Imagine what would happen with 6 winger on the SC.

        "Never let up. Crush bigotry and greed."

        by LouisMartin on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:09:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Only if turnout overall decreases (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The point is:  conservative turnout may be even higher than 2010.  Their motivation is to turn President Obama out of the white house, and Romney's disapproval rates may not affect their votes as much as they would in some years.

        Dem base demographics are demoralized and turnout will likely be somewhat (if not significantly) less than in 2008.

        Added to that is the probability of independents moving to vote GOP and swing states become extremely close.  Independents went for Obama 52% in 2008.  They are now breaking toward Romney 4-6 points in some polls.

        And Independent voter registration is up in swing states.

        The new purple poll (swing states) has Romney tied in Colorado and winning Florida.

        President Obama’s job approval ticked up overall, and down among independents—and is problematic for an incumbent President.

        President Obama’s job performance has moved up a hair in
        Purple states over the last month with 47% approving of his job performance, while 48% disapprove. However, he is moving the wrong direction with independents, as 52% disapprove of the job he’s doing, up 3 points from last month.

        Obama still looks good, though!  But those margins are very close.

        I will say it again.. demographics mean little if your party's preferred demographics don't show up.

        •  Not really (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Supavash, jbeach

          Only 40% of people vote in a midterm, versus 60% in a presidential year. That big jump in the conservative share in 2010 was because they were motivated to turn out while other groups dropped out. But when the total numbers of voters increase like they do in a Prez year, it's hard to win a presidential election just by turning out your base.

          Demographic increase help. The Latino vote went from 7% in 2000, to 8% in 2004, to 9% in 2008, predictions that they'll reach 10% this year are perfectly reasonable when you look at the trend.

          Also people forget about Asian Americans. They went from 3.5% in 2000, to 4% in 2004, to 4.5% in 2008, prediction is they'll be 5% in 2012. They went over 60% for Obama. Immigration and racial profiling (with South Asians) are still huge issues that people don't realize push this group to the left

          Remove the Asian and Latino vote from Virginia and North Carolina and INDIANA and Obama loses  those states in 2008!

          African Americans were 11% in 2004, 13% in 2008, even if they don;t turn out at 13% do you think Obama can outperform Kerry with black voters? I have them at a 12% share.

          There is also a category called "others" that Obama won at a 66% rate that was 1.5% of the electorate in 2008. I have no idea if they are growing???

          Prediction that the white share of the electorate will drop 1-2% are perfectly reasonable.

          -1.63/ -1.49 "Speaking truth to power" (with snark of course)!

          by dopper0189 on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 07:22:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jbeach, isabelle hayes

          I've said it before and I'll say it again, African Americans back Obama a 100%. It does not matter how bad the economy, they will come out and in big numbers. They want Obama to win re-election. In regards to Hispanics, they are really not that different than blacks, at least in the urban inner city areas. Plus they are very mad at the Republicans. They will come out to the polls just to get them out of office. Polls have consistently showed Obama dominating. So yeah, turnout is key but with an election that will get worldwide media attention, I'm pretty sure people are gonna turnout.

        •  By the way (0+ / 0-)

          That's just one poll. Have you seen the other polls? PPP just came out with a poll and Obama was up by like 13. I've never seen Obama tied in Colorado. Also, Purple strategies uses likely voters. Finally, they have Obama up in Ohio by 6. The GOP needs to win Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia to win. All 4. If they don't they lose. I'd say Obama is looking pretty good. So you keep on trying to poo poo on everybody but we know the facts and we know the polls.

    •  But why is "conventional" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes

      Wisdom so certain that minorities and the youth wont turn out in large enough numbers to swing the election to Barack?

      •  Because does demographics (0+ / 0-)

        don't usually vote at particularly high proportions.

      •  for the same reason (0+ / 0-)

        that you get, from the "conventional wisdom" purveyors, only their slant on the world; e.g. "ows is dead"

        while thousands of people all over the country recently got together and took the short course in how to participate in nonviolent direct action, in anticipation of what's planned for spring

        any voter who isn't satisfied with the state of the country, and has a brain in which more than the reptilian complex is working, will not give that vote to a repub, period.

        also minorities and youth will turn out and be very big for bho, imho

    •  yes Rasmussen (0+ / 0-)

      has Obama performing better in Virginia then nationwide,I say no way. Rasmussen also has Obama performing better in Ohio & Florida then nationwide ,I just don't see it.I Feel either his stae polls are wrong or his national one is wrong.Gas prices????? They seem to be going down and per the economy it seems overall people feel it's getting better since it seems consumer confidence is up.
        On other polls it seems Gallup tracking now has Obama up 6 points and Rasmussen had Obama up earlier this week. What are the demographics of Rasmussen's most recent poll in Virginia? Might be interesting to see what is in comparison to last month. Now Easmussen does use a LV screen but I hear he uses the same model that showed Bush beating Gore by 7 points in 2000.

  •  there is no demgraphic advantage... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    if people don't vote

    We need turnout, not demographics.

    If our demographics don't turnout, and a large number of old, white conservatives, turnout we will not win

  •  Now you're thinking (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GRLionsFan, mmacdDE, chipoliwog, Supavash

    I may have to live under Romney, but my kids won't.  The Republican Party is dying.  It either goes back to being Ike's party, or it withers into George Wallace's party.

  •  Did anyone else need a minute to figure out... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ..."western progeny?"

    Preaching to the choir and then shooting them when they don't sing loud enough isn't a good strategy for increasing the size of the congregation.

    by Matisyahu on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 12:37:26 PM PDT

  •  This is a very good (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dopper0189, isabelle hayes

    analysis. When I see "Democrats" and "demographic advantage" in the same headline or lede, 9 times out of 10 I know it's going to be a piece of political-scientifically illiterate, triumphalist spin. Fortunately, this is the 10th.

    You've done a good job crunching the numbers, and I'm genuinely heartened by some of the scenarios you've produced. However, I'm still not quite comfortable imposing a long-term structural explanation on volatile short-term electoral shifts.

    The underlying demographic advantage didn't materialize overnight. It's the result of glacial shifts in the American electorate -- the tides rather than the waves, if you will. But the waves are what explain cycle-by-cycle variation in outcomes -- and so far there's no evidence of a 2008 wave materializing. You're correct that Democrats have ever more room for error as the tide moves in our direction -- but there are still many plausible paths to defeat (as you acknowledge) if the election-specific factors don't go our way.

    You are reading my signature line. #hashtag

    by cardinal on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 01:04:16 PM PDT

  •  yes, but... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...Democrats have had demographis advantages in previous elections, especially presidential elections where turnout among their key constituent groups seems to be at their highests (many Democratic Party constituent groups do not generally see very good turnout during non-presidential elections, for some reason). However, this year Republicans have and advantage that they didn't four years ago: unlimited amounts of secret corporate cash thanks to five of the most corrupt Supreme Court Injustices in American history (scalia, thomas, alito, roberts & kennedy, in their Citizens United ruling/abomination/in-kind contribution to the Republican Party). The question is whether those unlimited amounts of secret money, combined with nationwide Republican voter suppression tactics will outweigh President Obama's demographic advantages.

  •  Willard will have an evangelical problem (6+ / 0-)

    I just don't see him getting a normal republican evangelical tournout. There is a good 20% that will stay home rather than vote for a Mormon.

    •  That hard core rejectionist group... what %? (0+ / 0-)

      there is for sure a chunk of the religious right who really really do not like Mormonism and would not trust Romney at all... BUT when push comes to shove in November and after months of the more politically elastic pastors exhorting their flocks to hold their noses and vote against Obama...
      How hard and small with the group be?.. in a close election stay at home  voters even if just 5-10% of the evangelical extreme could be a clincher in dooming Willard... You have to guess what is stronger LDS aversion or Obama aversion.. and the right does get FOX and talk radio spewing Obama hate 24-7... and the anti-Mormon stuff would be a longer term more background "fundamental" issue... so it is a long shot that a sizable number would just stay home rather than choose... If Obama stays strong and consistent and Mittso just flounders or stays Blah... maybe just the Charisma gap would be a factor too... so the GOP and superpacs need to keep stoking the Obama fear and hate to make up for it.

      Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

      by IreGyre on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 02:54:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a post white voter (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes, a2nite

    Jewish by affectation, black by syncopation, one eye is green and the other one brown, putting on my votin' shoes and goin' down town, bitchezz! How you goin' to count US? Mo-bama voter.

    Just getting a handle on the knobs and dials.... Hey, don't touch that!

    by Old Lefty on Wed Apr 25, 2012 at 05:37:12 PM PDT

  •  I personally know (0+ / 0-)

    8zillion black kids who were 17 yrs old in 2008 who can not wait to vote for Obama. It's like a badge of honor.

    Obama's defining political trait is the belief that conciliatory rhetoric is a ruthless strategy

    by AAMOM on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 07:09:14 PM PDT

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