In 2008, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, due in large part to overwhelming support and turnout from non-whites. We were told his election was the dawn of a post-racial America, but many believe race relations have gotten worse, and exit polls reveal the 2012 presidential election as the most racially polarized in American history.
From the pages of the New York Times to the airwaves of National Public Radio, the talk of this year’s election is the Republican Party’s dwindling white base. The pundits insist the GOP must find a way to reach out to non-whites—especially Hispanics—or risk losing the presidency forever. Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, says “we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party.” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine agrees: “We have to recognize the demographic changes in this country.” But just how critical were non-whites to Mr. Obama’s victory?
Though whites have declined as a portion of the presidential electorate—from 87 percent in 1992 to just 72 percent in 2012—they are still overrepresented in comparison to their portion of the overall population, which is 63 percent. Blacks, meanwhile, make up 13 percent of the electorate, a number roughly at parity with their percentage of the population .
Many Hispanics in the US are not eligible to vote, so while they are the largest US minority group (16.7 percent of the population), they accounted for only 10 percent of voters in 2012. Many Asians are also ineligible to vote and those who are have a low turnout, so although Asians are 5 percent of the population they accounted for only 3 percent of the electorate. Asians are concentrated in heavily-Democratic California, where they were 11 percent of those voting. Though the demographic prospects for whites are bleak, they still cast well over two-thirds of the votes.
Non-whites went from 26 percent of voters in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012, an increase largely attributable to Hispanics and Asians, and possibly a lower white turnout rate. Over the past two decades, the Asian part of the electorate has tripled and the Hispanic portion has quintupled. This year, Hispanics were a substantial portion of voters in the key battleground states of Colorado (14 percent), Florida (17 percent), and Nevada (19 percent).
The white vote
At the polls, 59 percent of whites supported Mr. Romney, a rate no presidential candidate has matched since 1988. In fact, Mr. Romney is the first presidential candidate in US history to receive so high a share of the white vote and still lose the election.
From 2008 to 2012, Mr. Obama’s share of the white vote dropped from 43 percent to 39 percent, resulting in a 20-point gap between him and Mr. Romney. The decrease was especially sharp among white men, 41 percent of whom supported Mr. Obama in 2008, but just 35 percent in 2012—a drop of 6 percent. Mr. Obama’s vote share among white women dropped less, from 46 percent to 42 percent.
Whites in the South overwhelmingly supported Mr. Romney, especially in Mississippi (89 percent of white voters chose him) and Alabama (84 percent). Northern whites leaned more toward Mr. Obama, with majorities voting for him in Vermont (66 percent of white voters), Massachusetts (57 percent), Maine (57 percent), New Hampshire (51 percent), and Connecticut (51 percent). Demographic data was not available for Rhode Island (whites probably voted for Mr. Obama) or Delaware (whites voted for George Bush in 2004, but for Mr. Obama in 2008).
Outside the North, the only white electorates to prefer Mr. Obama were Oregon (54 percent), Washington (53 percent), Iowa (51 percent), Washington, DC (no 2012 data), and Hawaii (no 2012 data).
Below is a table showing how whites voted in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, according to CNN exit poll data, sorted in descending order by the percentage of whites who voted for Mr. Romney. Values with an asterisk are from the 2008 election, since demographic data was not recorded in some states this year. Also included are each state’s electoral votes and the white percentage of the electorate.
|State||Romney (% White Vote)||Obama (% White Vote)||Electoral Votes||Electorate (% White)|
|District of Columbia||12*||86*||3||35|
Clearly the spread in the white vote is extraordinary: 89 percent of whites in Mississippi voted for Mr. Romney but only 33 percent in Vermont. Do those states even belong in the same Union? And what does it tell whites about their government when 59 percent of them vote for a candidate but the figure for whites who live in the federal capital—many of whom work for the federal government—is only 12 percent (2008 data)? Washington is clearly out of touch with American whites. Whites in the city vote overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama, just as non-whites do.
If we counted only votes cast by whites, Mr. Obama would have lost the electoral college 68 to 438 (neither tally includes New York State’s 29 electoral votes; whites appear to have split evenly between the two candidates). If only white men had voted, as in the earlier days of the Republic, Mr. Obama would have won just 48 electoral votes.
By contrast, if we counted only votes cast by non-whites, Mr. Romney would not have won a single electoral vote. There was not a single state in which even a single minority group—black, Hispanic, or Asian—gave Mr. Romney a majority of their votes.
The black vote
This year, as in 2008, blacks voted near-unanimously for Mr. Obama: 93 percent to 6 percent for Mr. Romney. Though this Democratic margin of 87 points is lower than the 91 points Mr. Obama got in 2008, it is still well over the margin for the five previous elections, which averaged 76 points. Mr. Obama’s race remains important for blacks, despite their worsening economic position and Mr. Obama’s newfound support for gay marriage, a position some blacks said would cost him their vote.
Black votes were decisive in some states. In Maryland, for example, Mr. Obama won only 43 percent of white voters. Blacks, who accounted for 28 percent of voters and gave him 97 percent of their vote, handed Mr. Obama the state with a resounding 62 percent majority.
The Hispanic vote
Many commentators say Hispanics were decisive in key swing states. Indeed, Hispanics turned out in record numbers this year, accounting for 10 percent of the electorate (up from 9 percent in 2008). Seventy-one percent voted Democratic—a rate exceeded only by Bill Clinton’s 72 percent in 1996. At 27 percent, Mr. Romney’s share of the Hispanic vote was lower than John McCain’s 31 percent. But just how important was the Hispanic vote?
Many people, including Mr. Obama, say Mr. Romney did poorly among Hispanics because he alienated them by saying in the primaries that the US should enforce existing immigration laws. (He backtracked considerably in the general election, vowing to pass “comprehensive immigration reform” in his first year.) How would Mr. Romney have done if he had won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote as George W. Bush did in 2004? (As Steve Sailer has pointed out, the oft-cited 44 percent is inaccurate, as even the exit polling company now admits). Let us not forget that Mr. Bush got those votes by forcing banks to give home loans to hundreds of thousands of underqualified Hispanics and promising amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, but let us assume Mr. Romney had pandered just as hard.
If Mr. Romney had won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote rather than 27 percent, his total vote would have increased by 1.3 percent. This would not have given him a majority of the popular vote, but would it have made enough of a difference in key swing states to give him the election?
The table below shows the Hispanic percentage of the electorate in key swing states, as well as the percent of Hispanic voters who favored Mr. Romney in 2012 and Mr. Bush in 2004. Data for Virginia was not available for 2004, so we have assumed Mr. Bush’s percentage of the national Hispanic vote. Also included are the percentage of each state’s vote Mr. Romney received from Hispanics at his actual 2012 rates, the percentage he would have received if Hispanics had voted at the same rates they did for Mr. Bush in 2004, and the difference between the two. The last column is the percentage spread by which Mr. Obama beat Mr. Romney in that state. Because an additional vote for Mr. Romney is counted as one vote less for Mr. Obama, if two times the figure in the next-to-last column is greater than the figure in the last column, a Bush-level of Hispanic support would have given Romney the state.
|State||Electorate (% Hispanic)||% Hispanics for Romney||% Hispanics for Bush ’04||Hispanic % of State Vote (Romney at Actual Rate)||Hispanic % of State Vote (Romney at Bush Rate)||Difference (%)||Overall Vote Spread (% Obama – % Romney)|
With the single exception of Florida, Mr. Romney would not have tipped any swing state (or, of course, any other state) even if he had he achieved Mr. Bush’s fabled level of Hispanic support. It’s worth noting also that if Mr. Romney had fawned over Hispanics enough to get high levels of their support, he would have lost at least some white votes.
Speaking after the election, Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said “I don’t believe there’s a path to the White House in the future that doesn’t include 38 percent to 40 percent Hispanic support.” Clearly, as we have shown, a Republican candidate would have to do better that.
How could Mr. Romney have won this election? Because there are still seven times as many white as Hispanic voters, Mr. Romney would have earned much higher dividends courting the white vote than by increasing his Hispanic share. If Mr. Romney had won just 1.5 percent more of the white vote, he would have carried the popular vote, a feat that would have required an 11 percent increase in his share of the Hispanic vote.
Mr. Romney only needed to increase his share of the white vote in key swing states by a few percentage points to win. The table below shows swing states (their electoral votes are in parentheses) and the white percentages of their electorates. Mr. Romney’s actual share of the white vote is included, along with the share he would have needed for victory, which was calculated using a similar methodology to that used in the Hispanic table above. The difference between Mr. Romney’s actual white vote and the white vote he would have needed is also displayed.
|State||Electorate (% White)||% Whites for Romney||White Vote Needed for Victory (%)||Difference (%)|
As is clear, Mr. Romney needed only a few percentage points’ shift in the white vote to win these states. Obvious ways to do this would have been to make affirmative action a campaign issue or to support an end to birthright citizenship. Pat Buchanan-style appeals to working class whites–and there are many in these states–could have been equally successful.
The Asian vote
One big—and largely neglected—story of the 2012 election is the shift in the Asian vote. If the current exit-polling data are accurate, Asians voted for Mr. Obama at an even higher rate than Hispanics: 73 percent versus 71 percent. There has been a steadily growing Asian majority voting Democrat: 55 percent in 2004, 63 percent in 2008, and now 73 percent. However, until this year they lagged Hispanics by 4 to 5 percentage points. Why are Asians now the second-most reliable Obama supporters after blacks? We have no good answer.
The chart below shows the stark racial divide in this presidential election:
Of course, when the vote splits like this along racial lines, it is always the white candidate who failed to do enough to win minority votes. For years that has been the refrain about Hispanics, and now Republicans will no doubt be told they have to do more to win over Asians. Needless to say, when the black candidate loses millions of white votes from one election to the next, there is no soul-searching about how to appeal to whites. The whites who abandoned Mr. Obama can just be written off as “racists.”
What are the policies that would win over non-whites?
For some Hispanics, an illegal immigrant amnesty, more Hispanic immigration, and more handouts might do the trick. But if Republicans support the first two, they will only make the electorate more Democratic. If they support more handouts, they will cease to be Republicans.
Republicans fail to realize that they can win the Hispanic (or black) vote only by completely rewriting their platform. By and large, it is only white people who vote for border control, small government, balanced budgets, and low taxes for the upper and middle classes. As the racial balance of the country changes, everything else about it changes. For decades, Republicans were willfully blind while immigration whittled away their natural support base and turned America into a country that simply cannot act and vote the way Republicans want it to. The GOP is in a terminal crisis of its own making. It should have consolidated the white vote long ago and fought the policies that were making it shrink.
Eventually, of course, if whites do become a minority of the electorate, even a successful strategy of consolidating their votes will not work at the national level. But in the meantime, any Republican support for amnesty, more legal immigration, and any other policy that increases the non-white percentage of the electorate would only add fuel to the Party’s funeral pyre.
Asians, with their high incomes and high levels of personal responsibility always seemed to be the one non-white group that was potentially Republican. If now even Asians are voting overwhelmingly for a non-white, Democratic candidate, the racial split in electoral politics is wider than ever. This election has been more starkly white vs. non-white than any in American history.
Is anyone still talking about a post-racial America?