If President Obama Dips below 43% of the White Vote, Can He Still Win in 2012?

If President Barack Obama cannot capture the white vote at quite the same numbers that he did in 2008 (43%), does that pretty much doom his chances in 2012 for a second term?

A demographic trends analysis at National Journal suggests not:

To assess the potential impact of the demographic change on the 2012 electoral map, National Journal recently performed a series of projections. First, we looked at the average annual increase in the state-by-state minority share of the voting-age population from 2000 through 2010 and projected that forward two years to produce an estimate of each state’s total nonwhite population in the 2012 election year. Then we estimated how that population increase would affect the minority share of the vote in each state, using the relationship between the two variables in 2008 as a guide. (We assumed that for each state, the minority share of the vote in 2012 would equal the same proportion of the total minority population as it did in 2008.)

Once we established an estimated minority share of the vote for each state in 2012, we ran two simulations. One projected that Obama would win the same share of minority voters in each state that he did in 2008; the other assumed that he would lose 10 percent of his previous minority share. (That scenario approximates the falloff between the 80 percent of minorities that Obama won in 2008, and the 73 percent that Democrats captured in 2010, according to the exit polls.) In each case, we then calculated the share of the white vote that Obama would need to win each state.

The exercise shows that, compared with 2008, the road would bend toward Obama, at least slightly, just about everywhere. Most important would be the changes in the states atop each side’s priority list for 2012.

Obama, for instance, won Florida last time with 42 percent of the white vote; under this scenario, if he maintains his minority support he could win the Sunshine State with just under 40 percent of the white vote. With equal minority support in Nevada, the president could win with only 35 percent of the white vote, down from the 45 percent he garnered in 2008. Likewise, under these conditions, Obama could take Virginia with just 33.5 percent of whites, well down from the 39 percent he captured last time. In New Jersey, his winning number among whites would fall to just over 41 percent (compared with the 52 percent he won in 2008). In Pennsylvania, under these circumstances, 41 percent of white votes would be enough to put the state in Obama’s column, down from the 48 percent he won in 2008.

Demography in America is not destiny, but like weighted dice it continues to load, year-by-year, in Democrats’ favor, and this should give 2012 Obama supporters some hope that they’ll see him continue in the presidency through 2016 (when the demographics will have shifted even further in favor of Democratic candidates).

Here’s a bit more from National Journal:

Since 1992, exit polls have found that the percentage of nonwhite voters in presidential elections has more than doubled, from 12 percent when Bill Clinton first won the White House to 26 percent in 2008. Obama got four-fifths of that nonwhite vote, which helps explain how he won the largest share of the popular vote of any Democratic presidential nominee since Lyndon Johnson while winning only 43 percent of whites’ votes.

If the minority share of the vote increases in 2012 by the same rate it has grown in presidential elections since 1992, it will rise to about 28 percent nationally. By itself, that could substantially alter the political playing field from 2010, when the minority vote share sagged to just 22 percent. It means that if Obama can maintain, or even come close to, the four-fifths share of minority votes that he won in 2008, he could win a majority of the national popular vote with even less than the 43 percent of whites he attracted last time.

These trends remind me of California in the 1980s and 1990s. Republicans played racial politics, alienating nonwhite voters—and Republicans won some election cycles doing it—but it ultimately came back to bite them. They now have great difficulty winning statewide elections.

As California goes, so goes the nation.

Republicans, are you listening?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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9 Responses to If President Obama Dips below 43% of the White Vote, Can He Still Win in 2012?

  1. andrewclunn says:

    I believe I speak for 49 out of 50 states when I say, “Screw California.” They’re up there with New Jersey as the most hated states.

  2. HooDatIS? says:

    I hope Obama will win in 2012! visit my blog http://www.ethicalfutures.wordpress
    nice post

  3. One dissent from the notion that the GOP in alienating “non-white” voters will sink it’s boat.

    I read this at Sullivan’s blog. Over time many groups like Italians and Jews have come to be thought of as “white” but weren’t originally. As latinos assimilate (and I think they will in the long run) they will less and less be thought of (including by themselves) as “non-white” minorities. They may be more open to being Republicans as a result. I think this has happened with a lot of Catholic voters as time has passed.

    Though for the next 10-20 years, the Republicans are trying awfully hard to drive away minorities, especially in the last two years.

    • santitafarella says:

      As an Italian American, I see it in my own family (a fair amount of conservative second, third, and fourth generation voters).

      And, having lived in California all of my life, Mexican Americans have always struck me as very “Italian.” There’s a scene, for example, in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (perhaps you remember it), in which an Italian immigrant family is moving into a small suburban home, and if you didn’t know that they were being depicted as poor immigrant Italians, you would think that they were being depicted as poor immigrant Mexican Americans.

      To the anglo of the 1940s, Italian Americans were the immigrant “other.”

      Also, my grandfather used to write and play music that sounds very much like the ethnic music associated with Mexico. And, of course, there is religion (Catholic).

      So, yes, this is a long way of saying I agree with you. Hispanic Americans, over time, will certainly become ever more conservative voters. But that doesn’t mean that Republicans, in the way that they talk about ethnicity and race, and in the policies they promote, won’t have to meet people halfway. You would never, for example, hear a contemporary Republican talk about Italians the way Mexicans are talked about by them. If they did, they would lose Italian American voters.

      —Santi

    • troy says:

      bull, hispanics are actually non europeans and how, like even though italians and jews were discriminated against by a certain amount, they were still white europeans.

      white folks don’t understand how 1) far left historically most hispanic groups including puerto ricans and mexicans are as well as south americans 2) how the more right wing cubans population is actually decreasing vs. other hispanic populations and with cuba eventually becoming free and open to american born cubans, even they will become more left wing, and more importantly 3) you would be shocked by the amount of influence blacks have over the hispanic vote especially with a black president for the next few years running immagration policy.

      i’ve heard this argument made before but no chance hispanics ain’t white i don’t care how light and blonde some of them may seem.

      obama ’12

  4. To the extent Democrats integrate “minority” groups into mainstream America, they fall victim to their own success.

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