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Demographics and the Presidential Election

Politics being an American sport as much as football or baseball, there has already been a lot of discussion about the 2012 presidential election (in addition to more reasonable discussion about the upcoming midterm elections next fall). It seems to me that to get a sense of the landscape for 2012 even this early, we would do well to look at the demographic conditions prevailing in the 2008 election.

I got my information by looking at election and exit polling results from presidential elections in 1972 through 2008. Dave Leip's Atlas of Presidential Elections was very helpful in that part, while I had to use a variety of sources for the exit polling, although the New York Times was generally the most consistent source.

I am still chewing through the data, but found some interesting indicators worth consideration. For instance, the total voters for 2008 made up 41.5% of the population, slightly down from 2004's 41.9% but above the 1972-2008 average of 39.3%. Obama in 2008 took 2.8 million more votes than Kerry did in 2004, while McCain in 2008 took 4.5 million fewer votes than George W. Bush in 2004. Barack Obama won the White House by about 8.5 million votes, the largest popular-vote margin of victory since Reagan's 1984 re-election, when he beat Mondale by 16.9 million votes. 2.7 million more men voted in the 2008 election than in 2004, while women voters increased from 2004 to 2008 by only 450 thousand voters. White voters decreased from 2004 to 2008 by 1.3 million, while black voters increased from 2004 to 2008 by 2.9 million voters - since McCain won white voters by a margin of 55% to 43% while Obama won black voters by a margin of 95% to 04%, this demographic shift is an important element in the Democrat's victory. Hispanic voters increased by 1.5 million from 2004 to 2008, and since Republican support by Hispanics fell from 44% to 31% while support for the Democrat increased from 53% to 67%, this also represents a significant shift which favored Obama. Voters under 29 (a strong demographic for Obama) increased by 1.8 million, while voters over 60 (a key sector for McCain) decreased by half a million voters, which also played into Obama's advantage.

Consequently, the exit polls demonstrated that race, gender, and age all affected the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. The next step would be to consider the thresholds of those demographic qualities, or the historical levels of support needed to win.

With regard to male voters, Bill Clinton won in 1992 with only 41% of male support. Barack Obama came close to that, with just 43% support. If male voters continue to grow faster than female voters, this could be a problem for Obama in 2012.

The 13% representation by black voters was the highest ever in a federal election. Obama won the black vote by a margin of 14.9 million votes (meaning that Mccain took 6.4 million more non-black votes than Obama). To win re-election, therefore, President Obama needs to enjoy similar turnout by black voters; statistically every black voter who voted in 2008 but does not vote in 2012 is twenty-three times more likely to hurt Obama than his Republican opponent by staying home.

Seniors represent a readitionally significant and active voter bloc. If they return in numbers in 2012, this will be a significant problem for Obama.


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Comments (20)

Umm, what percentage of tho... (Below threshold)

Umm, what percentage of those "black voters" were registered by ACORN?

Hmmmm....you mean to tell m... (Below threshold)

Hmmmm....you mean to tell me that Blacks voted for Obama because he's ....er....Black? Isn't that racist?

"Seniors represent an addit... (Below threshold)

"Seniors represent an additionally significant and active voter bloc. If they return in numbers in 2012, this will be a significant problem for Obama."

Yeah,the one's who stayed home last time. And also add in the disaffected Blacks and Hispanics still looking for a job in 2012.

The Race Card will loom large in 2012. Barry will play it to the hilt because his administration will have nothing to show for itself. What a coincidence! Just like his previous performances in government!

You also need to factor in ... (Below threshold)

You also need to factor in state-by-state numbers as those are more important than overall national averages. For example, Obama doesn't need to maintain the same number of black votes in NY as much of those votes merely increased his margin of victory in a given state (with a margin of 2 million votes, Obama could afford to lose 1.5 million black votes and still win easily).

Steve makes a good point, r... (Below threshold)

Steve makes a good point, regardless of how Obama did among each demographic, the key question is how did those groups effect the numbers in the 5 key battleground states.

As anyone who understands the Electoral College systems knows, it's not about the popular vote. 5 ppl in California could vote total and 3 million in South Carolina yet the person with California would win the election if those were the only 2 states allowed to vote.

Right now it boils dwn to Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Virgina. These 5 states have decided the future of the presidency over the last 25+ years. The 3 most populous states, Cal., Tx., and NY are not even campaigned in b/c of the fact the outcome is pretty much concluded before any election. I would be very interested to see how the groups you cite break dwn in those key states I mentioned.

Maybe Steve? but if He lose... (Below threshold)

Maybe Steve? but if He loses 1.5 million black votes in 2012 along with the 7 or 8 million white votes He will lose.. And the priveledge of throwing the BUM OUT will be a huge motivating factor. The only catch is does the GOP go with another McCain type that cannot annunciate ideas or do they pick a candidate with enough balls to win My vote.

Time will tell.

The sophomores won't be sop... (Below threshold)

The sophomores won't be sophomores no more.

What would be interesting i... (Below threshold)

What would be interesting is to fold in- closer to election time-the regional approval ratings for Obama that Gallup does.

Although I think those *pollsters* take into account all registered voters and don't select for likely voters making my whole idea-junk.

But shoot if there is a trend line.

Obama isn't playing so well right now in the south even though supposedly again-according to Gallup they are making a better economic recovery than other regions. But, this result you could expect.

Where he might be losing ground faster is surprisingly in the West, in Gallup's demagraphic breakdown Obama lost 45 points in the West between their poll taken on July 6-12 when he was at 60% compared to the poll taken between July 13-19th where he was down to 54%.

That's the region he is doing the worst in after the South.

Although, again there is a chance that California could quite literally go to pot and they'd still vote for Obama...

Shoot-Make that-*d... (Below threshold)


Make that-*demographics*

and *4%* points that he lost in the time between the two polls taken by Gallup for the West.

Sorry about that.

"Seniors represent a rea... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

"Seniors represent a readitionally significant and active voter bloc. If they return in numbers in 2012, this will be a significant problem for Obama"

Not a problem: "We know we spend a huge amount of money that last year of life. More and more people are gonna say, I don't want people poking tubes, and, you know, uh, doing all sorts of...stuff. The most important thing we can do on end-of-life care right now: to encourage people to look at hospices as a...legitimate option. (B.H. Obama 7/15/09)"

And "encourage" in that last sentence means the same as it would if any other Chicago thug gangster said it.

At this point, considering ... (Below threshold)

At this point, considering the Chicago propensity for having the dead vote early and often, I see an entirely new demographic in the offing... the Metabolically Challenged.

And I'm sure ACORN can register a whole lot of 'em if they dig around enough nationwide!

I believe a number of peopl... (Below threshold)

I believe a number of people are starting to realize what 'dumbographic' they were in...

Well, Obamacare will take c... (Below threshold)

Well, Obamacare will take care of the senior vote but I'm sure it will affect all demographics.

While the economic performa... (Below threshold)

While the economic performance of the Democrats remains as their greatest potential opponent, the problem for the Republican party is that the party has lost strength in a number of states and is hardly a true national party any longer.

For example, Oregon, Washington and California were all traditionally Republican leaning states during most of the period up to 1988. Now in some states like Oregon, the Republican party is in such disarray that no Republican holds statewide office. And only one of five members of Congress are Republican.

In the Northeast, Republican problems are similar, with less and less offices held by Republicans.

More and more, the Republican party is becoming just a Southern party, losing strength in too many areas to control legislatures, governorships, etc. The best hope that Republicans have is for the economy not to improve, rather than their party in a real position to win because of any ideas or positions. That's not really good, because likely by the 2010 elections things should improve by then. But I do expect some modest midterm Republican gains in some areas. But that's hardly due to anything they appear to be doing for themselves, but rather what Democrats might do to themselves.

Republicans really need strong organizations in every state to be considered a true national party. They simply don't have that right now.

Paul, you really should tes... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Paul, you really should test your assumptions more often. Those comments you made about the GOP not really being a "true national party", are a lot like similar comments made about democrats when the tables were turned, less than a decade ago. Trying to pretend that the GOP or the Democrats are just going to fade away because they are not as powerful as before is evidence of early dementia.

"evidence of early dementia... (Below threshold)

"evidence of early dementia"

Nice way to talk to the only commenter who probably hasn't uttered a single scathing insult at another commenter.

While you do put a lot of thought into your statistical analyses, DJ, they tend not to be very accurate. Remember when I said Obama would carry Indiana, and you scoffed at the suggestion based on your own analysis of polling data/internals? Do you remember mantis' painstaking dismemberment of pretty much every quantitative point you put forth, based for no reason whatsoever on historical trends?

Anyway, Paul is right: as bad as the Democratic Congress has been, the Republicans are despised and distrusted to a far greater extent. How many babies would Obama have to kill and eat on national television before Pennsylvania swung red again? I'd put the over/under at 9.

hyperbolist,You ar... (Below threshold)


You are being way too kind to the voters and the media with that over/under. First off, the only "national" television that would deem that story (if true) would be Fox News, and due to traditional media still eulogizing Cronkite and giving only a brief mention to "President Obama's actions to end the suffering of those unwanted", I would put that over/under at about 15 million, but only if they are liberal babies.

Keep on dreaming, Sir!... (Below threshold)

Keep on dreaming, Sir!

It may come as a shock to y... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

It may come as a shock to you, hyperbolist, but Pennsylvania is not the whole of the United States. While Barack Obama won the election, it bears notice that John McCain won 21 states, and lost by 5 percent or less in 4 others, despite a campaign that even he admitted was lackluster and unfocused at times. In addition, the GOP still retains 40 Senators and 178 Representatives. With all due respect, a person would have to be delusional to imagine those reflect anything but a national party, albeit the minority party.

Agreed, DJ! The United Stat... (Below threshold)

Agreed, DJ! The United States is a pretty centrist nation, and there will be a viable and more conservative option that will take seats from Dems, but in order to have a chance at regaining control, it will have to be a very different organization than Tom DeLay and George W. Bush's Republican Party. Emphasis on smaller government, but no more than lip service for social conservativism and a lot less geopolitical sabre rattling. The landscape is a lot different than it was five years ago, for the better I would argue.






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