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Opinion: How Demography Became the Narrative for Obama's 2012 Victory Opinion: How Demography Became the Narrative for Obama's 2012 Victory

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The Next America - Politics 2012 / Politics

Opinion: How Demography Became the Narrative for Obama's 2012 Victory

December 18, 2012

Opinions and other statements expressed by Perspectives contributors are theirs alone, not of National Journal's. Content created by third-party contributors is their sole responsibility and its accuracy is not endorsed or guaranteed.

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Since 2008, commentary about presidential campaigns has been saturated in the rhetoric of narrative. However, President Obama’s 2012 presidential victory wasn’t, strictly speaking, based on narrative.

So what happened? The Obama campaign focused strategically on offering specific policies or programs that targeted the new demographics. This meant ensuring a government mandate to address immigration, the issues of single women, the concerns of Hispanic, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans, the supporters of trade unions, and ordinary folks struggling to find jobs or keep the ones they had.

Exit polls suggested the importance of demographics. Obama captured 71 percent of the Latino vote, in contrast with only 23 percent for former Gov. Mitt Romney. The president garnered 93 percent of African-American men and 96 percent of African-American women. He won 73 percent of the Asian-American vote.

 

Indeed, electoral demographics have become the driving force of the past two presidential elections, a fulfillment of Peter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein’s 1997 prophecy, “Demography is destiny in American politics.” They forecast 2008 as the year when a shift in ethnic demographics would ensure the Republican Party’s inexorable slide to “minority status.”

What, then, do the demographics of the 2012 presidential election indicate? As Nancy Benac and Connie Cass illustrated, nonwhites represented 28 percent of the 2012 electorate in contrast to just 20 percent in 2000. Obama received 80 percent of the nonwhite vote in both 2008 and 2012. White, male voters represented only 34 percent of the votes cast in the 2012 election as compared with 46 percent in 1972.

According to John Cassidy, white men chose Romney over Obama by 27 percent (62 percent to 35 percent). Caucasian women voted for Romney over Obama by 56 percent to 42 percent, a higher percentage than those who voted for either McCain in 2008 or Bush in 2004.

Today, according to Benac and Cass, 54 percent of single women vote Democratic, in contrast to 36 percent of married women. The single women’s vote was strategically significant since it accounted for nearly a quarter of all voters (23 percent) in the election.

White voters favored less government (60 percent), Hispanics wanted more (58 percent), and, by comparison, blacks were the most interventionist of these ethnic groups (73 percent). Hispanics represented a significant and growing share of prospective voters in the Western battleground states.

In 2000, for instance, white voters constituted 80 percent of voters in Nevada. But by 2012 their percentage of the total vote had declined to 64 percent while the Hispanic vote had increased by 19 percent. Not surprisingly, 70 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama in Nevada.

The youth vote sided decisively with Obama, as Benac and Cass demonstrated. In the case of North Carolina, a battleground state that narrowly supported Romney, two-thirds of these voters supported Obama. Younger voters are also more ethnically diverse. Of all Americans under 30 who voted in the election, 58 percent are white as compared with 87 percent of seniors who voted.

Just how significant are these numbers? As Ryan Lizza noted, three-fifths of white voters selected Romney, equaling or exceeding the support that former Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush had received from white voters in 1980 and 1988, respectively. But if the white electorate was 87 percent of voters in 1992, by 2016 they will represent fewer than 70 percent of American voters.

As the demographic landscape of our country changes, even conservative strongholds such as Texas will be at risk. Ted Cruz, a newly elected senator from Texas, who campaigned from a “secure-the-borders” perspective, expressed it this way to Lizza.

In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat.... If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House.... If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to 270electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist.

Obama and his team of advisers ran a tactically brilliant campaign. Obama’s victory wasn’t based on a narrative, because that would have exposed the economic failings of his administration.

Instead, the campaign demonized Mitt Romney by appealing to the “diversity values” of the Democratic rank and file while saturating the battleground states with attack ads. The party appealed to a multicultural mosaic: Hispanics, single women, African-Americans, ethnic minorities, young people, as well as many of the economically disenfranchised who voted, a significant number of affluent progressives, and, of course, the LGBT community.

The Democrats strategically targeted their demographic, and the demographic became the narrative. “In sports parlance,” as I have noted on The Huffington Post, “Obama’s ‘ground game’ was hard-hitting and decisive. The demonization against Romney began early and never stopped. Even before he was the designated Republican candidate, the Obama machine had Romney effectively in their sights. All is fair in political warfare. And this Democratic victory was supremely won.”

Dr. Diana E. Sheets, an iFoundry Fellow and Research Scholar at the University of Illinois, writes literary criticism, political commentary, and fiction. You can view her work at www.LiteraryGulag.com.

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