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More Demographic Thoughts on the 2012 Election

The GOP is rightly concerned that its share of the Hispanic vote has dropped to historic lows. What’s interesting about that drop, though, is that it occurred at the same time that the GOP’s share of the white vote increased. And that’s not how it usually works.

In 1996, Bob Dole captured only 21% of the Hispanic vote. But he also only captured 46% of the non-Hispanic white vote. (He beat Clinton among whites, by the way – Republicans winning the white vote and losing the election is nothing new.) In 2000, Bush won 55% of the white vote and 35% of the Hispanic vote. In 2004, he won 58% of the white vote and 41% of the Hispanic vote. In 2008, McCain won 55% of the white vote and 31% of the Hispanic vote. Over these four elections, the gap between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic white vote that went Republican has ranged from 17% to 25% – narrower in better years for the GOP, wider in worse years, but the two blocs otherwise moving roughly in tandem.

This year was different. Romney won 59% of the white vote but only 27% of the Hispanic vote. Not only was the gap historically wide, but the two numbers moved in opposite directions – Romney improved on McCain’s margins with white voters, but did worse with Hispanic voters. That hasn’t happened in recent memory. So why did it happen?

Romney made gains in the white vote across the board – but his gains were smallest in the white swing states. He didn’t move the needle at all in Iowa. He didn’t move the needle much in New Hampshire. And another funny thing – Romney gained the most in states where the white vote share fell the most. He gained 8% of the white vote in Missouri – but the white vote share fell 4%. He gained 5% in Ohio – but the white vote share fell, again, by 4%. He gained 6% in New Jersey – but the white vote share fell by 6%. He gained 5% in Florida – but the white vote share fell by 4%. He gained 7% in California – but the white vote share fell by 8% By contrast, states where the white vote held up rather well – Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts – are also states where Obama’s share of the white vote held up well. The major exception to this rule is Wisconsin, where Romney increased his share of the white vote and the white vote held up well.

As for the Hispanic vote, Obama’s gains come overwhelmingly from four states: Colorado and Arizona primarily, and secondarily Florida and Pennsylvania. Obama’s share of the Hispanic vote actually dropped in California. All this is according to the limited exit poll data [1] that we have.

Speaking of California, Leon Hadar has a good piece [2] on the website about the Asian-American vote, noting that Obama is now winning that vote by overwhelming margins. But if you look at the exit polls, what you see is that this is overwhelmingly driven by California. In 2008, Asians were 6% of the California electorate and gave 64% of their vote to Obama. In 2012, Asians were 11% of the California electorate and gave 79% of their vote to Obama. I agree with much of Hadar’s analysis, but we need to know whether that analysis has much to do with the country at large, or whether it’s really a California story. And given how strongly Democratic California is, I wonder whether Republicans will really care about winning back any particular voting bloc there.

So what conclusions do I draw from this mix of data? Well, let me tell you where my instincts go.

The white vote share of the electorate dropped too much to be accounted for merely by demographic change. And the absolute number of voters dropped this year relative to 2008, in spite of the increase in the voting-age population. And that increase looks “browner” than the electorate as a whole. So all that tells me that a significant number of white voters who turned out in 2008 did not turn out at all in 2012. Given what happened to the partisan split in the white vote, I suspect these were predominantly Obama voters.

The “Sailer Strategy” consists of trying to win overwhelming majorities of non-Hispanic white voters to compensate for increasing losses among Hispanic and non-white voters. The Tea Party version of the GOP comes as close to such a strategy as we’re plausibly likely to see – which does not mean that the Tea Party’s policy preferences are the same as those of Steve Sailer. But it does mean that the GOP in its current incarnation was perceived, by a wide swathe of the electorate, as the “white party.” And that strategy has proven inadequate in Presidential years.

But positioning the GOP as the “white party” isn’t the only way to appeal to white voters. And this year’s low turnout suggests, in fact, that it isn’t even optimal. Compare, for example, the GOP of 2004, which positioned itself not so much as the white party as the Christian party. That positioning won it a substantially higher turnout among white voters – and an electoral victory.

I’m not suggesting a return to that positioning – indeed, I’d be pretty turned off by an explicitly theocratic turn in the GOP. I’m just suggesting that “win more white votes” and “act like you care only about white people” aren’t the same thing at all.

It seems to me that the biggest problem the GOP has in its current incarnation is that it doesn’t have an economic message that means anything to these voters that it lost in 2008 and failed to win back in 2012. Mitt Romney ran on jobs and the middle class and opportunity, but there was essentially no policy substance behind those rhetorical appeals. Apart from the basic fundamentals of a modestly growing economy, an opponent with the benefits of incumbency, and a reasonably well-managed foreign policy, that’s why he lost. More to the point, that’s why the lost so many down-ticket races.

The GOP could moderate its stance on social issues, or could switch its position on immigration, or what have you. And these things might help or might hurt – I can see arguments for both sides. But I suspect that, ultimately, those questions are window dressing. the GOP cannot become a governing party again if it doesn’t find an economic message that has some relation to the actual economic situation in the country. I suspect that if it did, the old pattern would reassert itself, and it would win a larger share of both the white vote and the non-white vote. If not, the rump GOP base will continue its slide into petulant fury at the country it “lost.”

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17 Comments To "More Demographic Thoughts on the 2012 Election"

#1 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 10, 2012 @ 10:32 am

The strategy should more accurately be referred to as the Sailer-Frum strategy (or the Frum-Sailer strategy). Both Sailer and Frum have advocated the GOP’s writing off the Hispanic vote (and, a fortiori, the black vote) and focusing on increasing the white vote. Sailer wants to go after the MARs, Frum wants to go after college-educated whites (a group that used to vote Republican).

This column sounds a lot like what Frum’s been saying, especially on a realistic, contemporary (non-Reaganite) economic message, especially on jobs.

I’m pessimistic, though. Ever since Bill Clinton, people think the Democrats are at least OK on the economy. Maybe not as good as Romney, but good enough that independents can afford to vote on social criteria. Not necessarily social “issues,” but social teams, like “secular enlightened” against “fundamentalist reactionary.”

#2 Comment By M_Young On November 10, 2012 @ 11:06 am

“The Tea Party version of the GOP comes as close to such a strategy as we’re plausibly likely to see – which does not mean that the Tea Party’s policy preferences are the same as those of Steve Sailer. ”

These two sentences are hard to make sense of. I don’t understand how a one political movement can be as ‘plausibly close’ to a strategy when it has policy preferences that are ‘not the same’ as those of the strategy’s author. You’d have to explain more — are they close to the Sailer Strategy preference set? Where do they differ? I’ve read Steve a long time, and I don’t recall him ever suggesting that running around in Revolutionary War get up was going to mobilise vast numbers of white Americans. And then there was the touching (or pathetic) desire of the Tea Party/Glenn Beck crowd to appear ‘inclusive’ (paraphrasing the old joke is fitting here “What do you call a black man at a Tea Party function?” Keynote speaker). That the Tea Party was older and whiter than America is true (though apparently not so true was some think), but it certainly did not espouse any explicitly pro-white agenda.

“But positioning the GOP as the “white party” isn’t the only way to appeal to white voters. And this year’s low turnout suggests, in fact, that it isn’t even optimal.”

But did this year’s strategy involve positioning the GOP as the white party? There was a commitment to stick to Obama’s Dream Amnesty, Marco Rubio on the Romney campaign bus hinting at a general amnesty. Romney said he wanted to ‘staple a green card’ to every foreign graduate of an American university (the image of said graduates in the public’s mind will be overwhelmingly Asian). * The dogs that didn’t bark — no mention of affirmative action (imagine if Romney had appeared in Michigan with Barbara Grutter — that might have gained him a couple of points). And certainly there nothing close to a Willie Horton ad. The FBI had announced that crime actually ticked up last year — that could have been an opening.

So I think the that Romney positioned himself anyway as a ‘white’ candidate — other, perhaps, then putting another white man on the ticket — is false.

Having said that, it seems to me the analysis is true. A lot of whites don’t see the GOP’s current, Grover Norquist type economic message as being to their advantage. I’m pretty sure that the ones that stayed home don’t have immigration amnesty as a policy preference. Quite the opposite. They are probably less well off manual and skilled trades workers who will face increased competition from the even greater flood of illegals that an amnesty will bring (empirically that’s the case). These people probably couldn’t be sold on an explicitly ‘pro-white’ position on immigration restriction, but could be sold if it was packed as a way to improve their economic well-being (which it would be).

*It occurs to me that this might be a reason for Asian American voters to vote against Romney. All are citizens, and unlike Latino immigrants, don’t usually have busloads of relatives waiting to get in the US. But they *do* face competition from Asian Asians, whether H1-Bs or foreign grad students.

#3 Comment By Mikhail On November 10, 2012 @ 11:59 am

Mr. Gross has part of it (after Clinton, the idea of Democrats as being terrifically bad on economy just doesn’t hold as much water as it used to), but the other part is that after Bush, the idea of Republicans as being skilled economic managers also is a lot thinner. Good management of the economy used to be a significant part of the GOP’s brand, but nowadays… it’s not.

I feel that something similar has happened to foreign policy, which also used to be a GOP strength, but after Iraq it just isn’t, any more.

#4 Comment By Leon Hadar On November 10, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

Fairfax County in Virginia is not in California, and Asian-Americans there and in similar areas of educated and professional middle class types around the country voted Obama. If you read my piece, the point I was making was clear. Young professionals with advanced degrees and well-paid jobs — Asians and whites — are trending Democratic, mainly on the basis of social-cultural identity. The so-called Sailer strategy would work only if middle age whites will live forever and the percentage of rural, blue collar and low-income whites in the electorate wil grow in the coming years.

#5 Comment By Will in Mississippi On November 10, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

What role does apathy play in all this? People across the political spectrum have been deeply stressed since the 2008 crash. I’d argue the pain for many began at least a year before that, and the consequence has been a great disillusionisment.

It’s important to consider the lower proportion of white voters Romney won, and I suspect more than race plays into the dynamic. It would be interesting to track voter turnout and enthusiasm across demographic lines and for both parties.

#6 Comment By Robert On November 10, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

Non-whites vote their racial interests, full stop, and that means voting against white racial interests. It’s largely a zero sum game. The Jewish and Asian vote was just as lopsided as Hispanics, including them brings this discussion into focus. Almost all of “anti-racism”, “tolerance” and “civil rights” is nothing more than non-whites wanting to keep their fingers in white wallets, and nothing the Republicans do will change that more than a few points. The bottom line: Hispanics will never be conservatives, they can’t afford to be.

#7 Comment By Buffarilla On November 10, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

Obama’s total campaign was that I will take their stuff and give it to you. The majority of the country has become people who want to leech off others and not make it on their own. Romney underestimated the 47%. We cannot fight this. I am only glad that I am not 20 years younger so hopefully I will not have to witness the total collapse of the country.

#8 Comment By DavidT On November 10, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

A fairly obvious reason why the “try to get even higher percentages of whites” strategy isn’t likely to work for the GOP in 2016: the Democratic candidate is likely to be white.

No, I am not saying that most people who voted against Obama did so because of his race. But if even a small fraction did so–and would, for example, swing back to the Democrats if Hillary Clinton were the nominee (I can especially see such a swing among white women)–that, combined with the declining percentage of voters who are non-Hispanic whites, would be enough to make a “white” strategy problematic.

#9 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On November 10, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

The “actual economic situation”to which the author refers can be boiled down to the number 16 trillion–which represents the the extent of our indebtedness as a society. The number does not distinguish among race, religion, social status, gender or sexual orientation. And the number is growing by day. The solutions to this “actual economic situation” are not acceptable to either party because it would require enormous sacrifice on the part of the citizenry. Since neither side has the courage to address this issue, ultimately it matters not who is in power–whether the over-65 white male party or the party of women, gays and “people of color”. When the cash runs out and the credit runs dry, who’s going to care who is president?

#10 Comment By Surly On November 10, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

So I have been reading everything I could find about the reasons that the Republican party seems to be a great big FAIL and the one that makes the most sense to me is a cultural mismatch between the old American Protestant fierce individualism and the reality that most immigrants to this country have been from more communitarian and statist cultures. The white Protestants that are the backbone of the Tea Party are the descendants of the people that went to war with the biggest and most successful empire in the world because they didn’t want to pay their damn taxes. When the infant U.S. government tried to impose an excise tax on liquor, this group rebelled (Whiskey Rebellion). Tax revolt by old white people is a perennial ballot measure in states that allow iniatives on the ballot. (Howard Jarvis’ Prop 13 that spawned a movement in all states that allow ballot initiatives)
In contrast, immigrants come from places that are more authoritarian, more corrupt, and where it does not occur to anybody to rebel about anything.
Put yourself in the shoes of a Mexican or Chinese or Indian immigrant. You come here, and government actually works. Corruption is nonexistent by the standards to which you are used to. Government is a well oiled machine. Things are generally cleaned up after a disaster. Schools are good to great, depending on your perspective, and if they are lax about arithmetic it is easy to supplement.
If the Republicans are to be taken seriously, they have to change the argument. It is not a question of making government “small enough to drown in the bathtub.” It is a question of how efficiently government carries out the duties it has.
Immigrants are more inclined to favor the Democratic party not because they love big government, but because the government they experience here is pretty fucking awesome compared to what they expect, and they do not grok the reason to dismantle it.

#11 Comment By scottinnj On November 10, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

While people may not have been thrilled with Obama’s performance over the past four years, they do remember how the Republicans messed up the last time they were in control.

Americans, I think,are a forgiving people, but you need to be penitent,and there was no evidence in 2012 that there was any penance sought. I don’t like it when my kids make mistakes, but when they do, I expect them to show me how they learned from them before they get the keys to the car back. The Republicans rode the car off the road and haven’t admitted they were driving too fast around the corner, so it’s not that surprising they didn’t’ get the keys back.

#12 Comment By cw On November 11, 2012 @ 12:56 am

You can’t just go after a larger share of the white vote because there are not many more white people who will vote GOP in anything close to it’s present form: Young white people, single white women, urban whites, coastal whites.

It’s just not going to work. They would have to have to switch a whole bunch of naturally Democratic white people over to their side. To do that they are going to have to support things that repel their base of Christians and resentful white men. There is no way to be a party of fundamentalist christian morality and white resentment AND the party of career women, immigration reform, gay rights, and interracial harmony.

I think the GOP is due to fracture here somewhere. I think the tea party is a sign that it is already fracturing. That is often what happens when a group of people loses a war. And the GOP has just officially lost the culture war.

It remains to be seen who takes over the GOP, the pragmatists who care about winning elections over social issues or the hard core. I think the pragmatists will win eventually becasue the people with the money only really care about winning elections becasue that’s how they get their legislation passed. The whole southern strategy was just that, a strategy. When your strategy stops working you try something else. Winning votes is what pays the bills.

It will be interesting to see what they evolve into. Hopefully something less ugly than their current incarnation.

#13 Comment By JonF On November 11, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

Re: Non-whites vote their racial interests, full stop, and that means voting against white racial interests. It’s largely a zero sum game.

No it isn’t. That’s the same BS doctrinaire liberals peddle. In politics and even in economics one person’s gain is not necessarily another person’s gain.

#14 Comment By Sean Scallon On November 11, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

“Given what happened to the partisan split in the white vote, I suspect these were predominantly Obama voters.”

And I strongly suspect you are right. Romney got as much of the white vote as he was going to get.

#15 Comment By IanH On November 12, 2012 @ 2:09 am

Romney won whites age 18-29 by 7 points. McCain lost that demographic by 10 points.

#16 Comment By MNRD On November 13, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

When an opposition party spends four years maniacally attempting to brand the first American racial minority president as “other – and therefore illigitimate”, that party is in fact strongly branding itself as “the white party”. When on top of that, the aforementioned opposition party engages in an overt systematic attempt to suppress the votes of racial minorities…

This is not political rocket science.

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 14, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

There are so many interesting, provocative and profound comments here. Most would make for a great conference discussion and assessment of conservative goals. However, what seems inescapable to me is the talk geared around garnering a certain segment of the population all but writing off black voters.

If the message is cogent and tangible to a listener you can genberally win them over. It may take time, it may be painful, but I think by and large communication that avoids belittling and color baiting works. Telling hgalf of the population that they are only interested in a welfare check is just slapping the voters needed to win.

Until conservatives/republicans re-engage by:

1. advocating that conservatives return to the classroom of public education

2. Cease fear mongering rhetoric about the end of the country – even I don’t buy that blacks are responsible for destroying american democracy

3. Cease contending that everyone should make a living via entrepenuership — The days when a community could sustain two blacksmiths are long gone. Most people are going to work for someone else. This in no way suggests that enterpenuership should not be advocated —

4. Stop protecting/defending businesses when they make mistakes and the current situation was of the making of the business community not welfare queens – black or white. Advicate capitalist practices that make sense and actually hold business accountable.

5. Stop pretending that all economic disparities are the fault of laziness. What is the count now for home foreclosures, job loss, etc?

6. Stop pretending that we are a nation immune from engaging in some very serious social injustices that do require long term attention.

7. Move to get buy in from some of the worst offenders fear mongering allowing narrow argument. Popular does not equate to being correct.

8. Tough and realistic conversations about entitlement programs and taxes. If the healthcare initiative was designed to address healthcare entitlements — what is preventing a cessation of the medicare program and the removal of healthcare provisions in social security, won’t private HI cover most citizens?

9. Stop operating out of a fear mode when something goes awry — racing to get in line to ax some mistatement or err in judgement —

10. Maintain a high moral code of ethics and practice.

11. Perhaps we should engage in more listening than dictating —

12. I am not an advocate of the Ron Paul stance on foreign policy — but clearly — the cold war scenario no longer proivides the old black and white model for military force it once did — we need to be a lot more astute about the players on the planet. Advocating a cold war scenario against Muslims in the world is counter-productive.