This is the second part on my mini series about the 2012 presidential election. According to preliminary analysis of the 2012 elections turnout was 9% lower among all voters than 2008. Considering what 2008 represented this is not surprising. But when one digs into the numbers and combines it with the exit polls we are left with one inescapable conclusion, millions of white voters who participated in 2008 sat out the election. While Latino turnout represented 10% of the electorate, black turnout 13% and other 5% the white share of the vote was only 72%. If these missing white voters had participated in the election we might have a different result and minority turnout would not have increased but shrunk.
If we look at the numbers of people who voted, which roughly is coming out to about 125 million (as I write this) and we allocate the 10 million voters who voted based on the 72/13/10/5 percentages then we find that 91.6 million whites voted, 16.6 million blacks did, 12.7 million Latinos did and about 6.3 million in the other category. In 2012 98.6 million whites voted, 16.3 million blacks voted, 11 million Latinos voted and 5.9 million in the other category voted.
Now, the minority vote increase is nothing to sneeze at but the black vote increased by a mere .2%. The Latino vote certainly grew but it is dwarfed by the fact almost 7 million while voters fell off the map. So it is safe to say the minority share of the electorate did not really grow in 2012 as much as the white share of the vote shrunk artificially. Armed with this info we can now consider why this occurred and how it affected the 2012 election.
The Romney campaign’s strategy from day one was to run up their edge among the white vote and hope it was enough to overcome Obama’s edge with minorities. Indeed, if we give Romney 59% (what he received of the white vote in exit polls) of the missing 7 million white voters he would have won the pop. vote and perhaps the electoral college. Thus, technical difficulties and campaign strategies aside, Romney lost because many rural (county by county analysis shows this), white voters stayed home this election.
Now of course this is a big assumption that Romney would have won 59% of these voters. If we just look at a state like Ohio, where Romney was pounded relentlessly by the President on everything from his religion to business experience, we find that many rural, sparsely populated counties saw the greatest drop-off in votes. These counties still went for Romney, much as they did in 08 for McCain and in 04 for Bush, but there was a vote drop-off in these counties between 08 and 012. Considering that 2008 was a huge low point for the GOP the fact these rural, white voters stayed home in an election many Republicans and conservatives considered life or death is more than just concerning. It should terrify the GOP.
Of course this begs the question why these voters stayed home? I can go off anecdotal as well as statistical evidence for my assertions. First-off, if we consider the areas where the drop-off occurred, rural, socioeconomically depressed areas with high unemployment, many of these voters likely feel depressed and that the system has failed them. So why participate? Statistically we find a strong correlation between those who are unemployed and lower voting rates than those who are employed and not voting.
Secondly, and I admit there is a little evidence yet to support this theory, Obama’s campaign of relentlessly attacking Romney’s wealth and class might have swayed these voters. Many of these voters may not have been fans of Obama but they needed to vote for a candidate and not against Obama. In Romney, thanks to Obama’s campaign, they could not find that alternative.
Of course a whole host of other variables can be considered. Consider that Romney’s campaign did not reach out very much to evangelicals. In 04 these voters likely gave Bush Ohio. Romney also may have waited to long to move to the center and he also did not attack the President on issues like Benghazi and Iran as much as he could. Romney’s turnout project, Project ORCA, failed miserably on election day. Perhaps most importantly, Romney’s campaign and staff seemed to think these voters would come out regardless and vote against Obama. Obviously they were wrong.
So in terms of interpreting and dissecting this election a key point that needs to be analyzed is not just the President’s reelection or the increase in minority voting but rather the drop-off in the white vote. If minorities had turned out in greater numbers we could be contemplating a realignment of sorts. Instead, we see a President reelected with a slightly majority in the pop. vote yet losing a massive share of the still majority white vote. So for both parties, especially for the GOP, the key to this and future elections seems to lie in finding out why these voters stayed home, energizing them and getting them to the polls in 2014, 2016 and beyond.