Politics and Public Opinion, Elections

4 lessons from last night

The 2012 Electoral map results as of Wednesday morning. Florida is still too close to call. Map created on Real Clear Politics

The 2012 Electoral map results as of Wednesday morning. Florida is still too close to call. Map created on Real Clear Politics

President Obama has been reelected to the presidency for another four years. In Congress, Republicans held their House majority—with a couple races still to be decided, the Democrats look set to make only small gains. In the Senate, the Democrats defied the odds and may actually expanded their majority despite defending far more seats than the Republicans.

There will be countless lessons to be drawn from last night’s results, and commentators everywhere will be revealing their thoughts about what was important, so let me add my initial impressions here.

1: Demography is destiny

There was debate prior to the election as to what the demographic makeup of the electorate would look like yesterday. Some (myself included) expected it to look more like 2010 than 2008—that was wrong.

According to Washington Post exit polling, the nation’s partisan split was 38% Democratic, 32% Republican, 30% Independent. That’s very close to the 2008 D+7 advantage.

The electorate continued to diversify, with whites comprising just 72% instead of 74% in 2008. Latinos comprised 10% instead of 9% and black voters maintained their share of 13%.

Long term lesson: The GOP needs to do better with minorities. Romney captured 59% of the white vote to Obama’s 39%, and while the popular vote is quite close, the electoral college was not.

2: Playing to the base works

President Obama spent most of the campaign focusing relentlessly on rallying his core 2008 supporters: Minorities, young voters, and women. It paid off handsomely as all these groups either maintained their level of support for Obama or actually increased it.

Female voters supported Obama at 55%-44%, only a 1-point decline from their 2008 level of support. Low-income voters supported him by 60%, also about the same as four years ago. Latinos, meanwhile, expanded their support to 71% from 67% in 2008. Black voters maintained their monolithic support for the president, with Obama capturing 93% of their vote (95% in 2008).

Just about the only core Obama constituency that moved even somewhat significantly away from the incumbent was 18-29 year old voters, and even they shifted by only 6 percentage points, from 66% in 2008 to 60% this year.

3: The ground game is key

Not only did President Obama maintain or expand his lead among his core constituency groups, his campaign did an excellent job of getting them to the polls. All three of the groups above represented a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than they did in 2008.

Females accounted to 54% of the vote this year as opposed to 53% in 2008.

Low-income voters made up 41% last night but only 38% in 2008.

Latinos made up 10% of the electorate from 9%.

Young voters went from 18% in 2008 to 19% yesterday.

Obama achieved these increases despite declined enthusiasm among many of these groups. That implies that his turnout machine was extraordinarily effective.

4: America is no longer a center-right nation.

Not only did the Democrats defeat the Republicans, they did so in a new way. Bill Clinton won reelection by appealing to the center and moving away from some of his more left-wing positions. Barack Obama did the opposite, doubling down on center-left policies like raising taxes on the wealthy, embracing Obamacare, subsidizing green energy, and being loudly pro-choice. Obama’s victory shows that liberals don’t need to hide who they are anymore: They can stand up loudly for liberal beliefs and win. The fact that Romney captured Independent voters 50%-45% and still lost reinforces that message.

In the end, what looks pretty clear is that Team Obama’s organizational ability and the continued shifts in America’s demographics combined to create an insurmountable number of Democrats in the key battleground states of this election. While the popular vote is pretty close, Obama has pulled off a large electoral victory (332 Electoral Votes to 206 if he wins Florida). Moreover, the future looks bright for Democrats as they continue to perform very well among groups that are becoming ever-larger shares of the electorate.

Have some thoughts to add? If so, please post them to the comments!

5 thoughts on “4 lessons from last night

  1. It would have been interesting to see what a more libertarian candidate would have done – not as hardcore as Ron Paul, but someone who espoused Romney’s economic philosophy while pledging to respect Roe v. Wade, supporting (or at least not opposing) gay marriage, and running only slightly to his right on national security rather than sounding (at times) like he would take us into war with Iran. I suspect he would have peeled off fiscally conservative but pro-choice and war-weary/noninterventionist voters from Obama. While pro-life economic liberals might have flipped to Obama, having no candidate to satisfy their social issue hot button, I have the impression there are more pro-choice economic conservatives than the second group.

    Romney also failed to learn the John Kerry lesson – flip-flopping is a liability. The idea behind the Washington Post cartoon that appeared during the Republican primaries continued to resonate with some voters, myself included – Romney on the knee of an elephant Santa, asking, “What would you like me to ask for?” In other words, he really did seem willing to say what he thought you wanted to hear. Obama may have reneged on a number of promises he made in the previous election, but I felt there was no reason to put any more trust in Romney on that point.

  2. re: center right

    the country is still center right – the GOP has moved further to the right and abandoned the center right.

    1993 GOP supported the individual mandate – now they are far to the right.

    Ronald Reagan supported a progressive tax system and now the GOP is hard to the right of that.

    George Bush supported an immigration policy much more similar to what the Dems support than what the GOP supports right now.

    the reality is that the GOP has moved right away from center right.

    People that occupy center-right are called “socialists” now.

    RINOs are booted out of the party.

    etc, etc, etc.

    • This should include the fanatical hatred toward using the monetary system as republicans built it. The party is hell bent on gold speculation & creating some Weimar revisionist fantasy. “We used to teach history [to republicans] in school”. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

  3. Independents are now conservatives who are distancing themselves from the GOP, right? Different than people who are conservative, liberal and moderate. I’d like to see that breakdown.

    • “independents” when given the choice between hard right and moderate left – choose the latter.

      The GOP used to be able to figure this out but must have taken a massive overdose of stupid pills.

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