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!