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Obama's 2012 Victory: The Demographic Becomes the Narrative

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Since 2008, commentary about presidential campaigns has been saturated in the rhetoric of narrative. However, 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 demographic. This meant ensuring a governmental mandate to address immigration; the issues of single women; the concerns of Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans; the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans; and the interests of supporters of trade unions and ordinary folks struggling to find jobs or keep the ones they had.

As Rosa Ramirez has shown, exit polls suggested the importance of the demographic. Obama captured 71 percent of the Latino vote, in contrast with Romney's 23 percent. The president garnered 93 percent of African-American men and 96 percent of African-American women. He received 73 percent of the Asian vote.

Indeed, electoral demographics have become the driving force of the last 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, compared with 46 percent in 1972.

According to John Cassidy, white men chose Romney over Obama by 27 percent (62 vs. 35 percent, respectively). Caucasian women voted for Romney over Obama by 56 vs. 42 percent, respectively, 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, accounting 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 were white, 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 Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush 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 less 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 two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist.

Barack Obama and his team of advisors 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 advertisements. The party appealed to a multicultural mosaic: Hispanics, single woman, African Americans, ethnic minorities, young people and many of the economically disenfranchised who voted, as well as 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 previously, "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."