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Demographics

Opinion: Demographic Fundamentals Remain Critical to 2012 Presidential Outcome

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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney points to President Obama during the first presidential debate held at the University of Denver last Wednesday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Summary: The Center for American Progress published “The Path to 270” in November 2011 outlining the demographic and economic factors in play for the upcoming 2012 presidential election. The coauthors, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, discussed the growing minority vote and examined whether the various demographic groups key in President Obama’s 2008 victory would once again rise to the occasion.

Last month, CAP released an updated report, “The Path to 270 Revisited,” that used updated polling and demographic data to answer questions integral to next month’s presidential election. Will Obama receive the same minority turnout that brought his victory four years prior? How has his support fared among white, college-educated voters? And what advantages can Romney capture to win?

 

Teixeira and Halpin address these issues, and more, in the essay below.

--The Next America Staff

Much has been written about the perceived strong performance of Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate—and conversely, the seemingly lackluster performance of President Obama. Although important to larger questions about the two campaign’s strategies in the final weeks, there is scant historical evidence that the debate will have much of an impact on the eventual outcome of the presidential election.  

 

What will matter most are the two fundamentals we outlined in our November 2011 paper, “The Path to 270.” In that report, we argued that the election will boil down to two primary questions. Will the rising electorate of communities of color, the millennial generation, professionals, single women, and seculars that pushed Obama to victory in 2008 be sufficient and mobilized enough to ensure his reelection in 2012? Or will the Republican Party and its presidential nominee capitalize on a struggling economy and greater mobilization from a conservative base that holds the president in deep disdain?

These remain the central issues of the election.

Our national analysis broke down the electorate into three key groups—minorities, college-educated whites, and noncollege or working-class whites. Using these three groups, we discussed various scenarios that might result in an Obama or Romney victory. We found, in brief, that Obama should be significantly advantaged in 2012 by demographic change, especially a projected increase in minority voters and decrease in white working-class voters.

We further found that if the president’s minority support holds up in 2012, with the level of Hispanic support being the biggest question mark, he could absorb quite a lot of falloff in his support among white working-class voters and still win the election. The latter is especially the case if Obama’s support also holds up among white college-educated voters.

In our latest paper, “The Path to 270 Revisited,” we reexamine this assessment based on polling and demographic data that are now available to try to answer the following questions:

  • How much demographic change can we expect to see in the 2012 election?
  • Will Obama’s minority support be as high as it was in 2008?
  • Will Obama’s support among college-educated whites hold up in 2012?
  • Will Romney’s advantage among white working-class voters be large enough to win?

How much demographic change can we expect to see in the 2012 election?

Since our original report in 2011, better data on demographic changes nationally and in battleground states became available. Based on analysis of the most up-to-date information about eligible voters from the Current Population Survey, the overall minority composition of the electorate increased by 3 points since 2008, while the percentage of white working-class voters declined by an equal amount (see data below preceding map). White college graduates increased also, but only very slightly, about two-tenths of a percentage point.

 

This is fairly similar to our projection based on exit poll and 2000-10 census data. The differences are that our projection had minority voter share going up only 2 points and white college graduate voter share going up 1 point. But keep in mind that these new figures are based on changes in the composition of eligible voters, which may or may not be fully reflected in the composition of actual voters, depending on turnout patterns. Given that minorities’ turnout tends to be relatively low while white college graduates’ turnout is relatively high, the shifts we see in 2012 may still wind up close to our original projection.

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