Was 2012 the Last Stand of the White Voter?
November 8, 2012 - 1:36 pm
Sean Trende “The Case of the Missing White Votes”:
As of this writing, Barack Obama has received a bit more than 60 million votes. Mitt Romney has received 57 million votes. Although the gap between Republicans and Democrats has closed considerably since 2008, Romney is still running about 2.5 million votes behind John McCain; the gap has closed simply because Obama is running about 9 million votes behind his 2008 totals.
Of course, there are an unknown number of ballots outstanding. If we guesstimate the total at 7 million (3 million in California, 1.5 million or so in Oregon and Washington, and another 2.5 million or so spread throughout the country), that would bring the total number of votes cast in 2012 to about 125 million: 5 million votes shy of the number cast four years ago.
With this base line, and armed with the exit-poll data, we can get a pretty good estimate of how many whites, blacks, and Latinos cast ballots in both 2008 and 2012. Assuming the 72/13/10/5 percentage split described above for 2012, that would equate to about 91.6 million votes cast by whites, 16.6 million by blacks, 12.7 million by Latinos, with the balance of 6.3 million votes spread among other groups.
Compare this with 2008, when the numbers were 98.6 million whites, 16.3 million blacks, 11 million Latinos, and 5.9 million from other groups.
In other words, if our underlying assumption — that there are 7 million votes outstanding — is correct, then the African-American vote only increased by about 300,000 votes, or 0.2 percent, from 2008 to 2012. The Latino vote increased by a healthier 1.7 million votes, while the “other” category increased by about 470,000 votes.
This is nothing to sneeze at, but in terms of the effect on the electorate, it is dwarfed by the decline in the number of whites. Again, if our assumption about the total number of votes cast is correct, almost 7 million fewer whites voted in 2012 than in 2008. This isn’t readily explainable by demographic shifts either; although whites are declining as a share of the voting-age population, their raw numbers are not.
Moreover, we should have expected these populations to increase on their own, as a result of overall population growth. If we build in an estimate for the growth of the various voting-age populations over the past four years and assume 55 percent voter turnout, we find ourselves with about 8 million fewer white voters than we would expect given turnout in the 2008 elections and population growth.
Eight million? It’s actually worse than that:
Had the same number of white voters cast ballots in 2012 as did in 2008, the 2012 electorate would have been about 74 percent white, 12 percent black, and 9 percent Latino (the same result occurs if you build in expectations for population growth among all these groups). In other words, the reason this electorate looked so different from the 2008 electorate is almost entirely attributable to white voters staying home. The other groups increased their vote, but by less than we would have expected simply from population growth.
Why did so many white voters stay home? Certainly the entire electoral process turned millions of people off. Its length, its mindless attack and counterattack over nothing, and the fact that the allure of voting for Obama had gone all probably contributed to the bulk of white people staying at home on Election Day.
But Sean has another reason as he looks at turnout in his homes state of Ohio:
My sense is these voters were unhappy with Obama. But his negative ad campaign relentlessly emphasizing Romney’s wealth and tenure at Bain Capital may have turned them off to the Republican nominee as well. The Romney campaign exacerbated this through the challenger’s failure to articulate a clear, positive agenda to address these voters’ fears, and self-inflicted wounds like the “47 percent” gaffe. Given a choice between two unpalatable options, these voters simply stayed home.
American presidential politics has reached a low point. It’s hard to imagine a campaign that could be more negative and more mendacious than the contest we’ve just witnessed. We are not getting the government we deserve because no one deserves such a wretched exercise in democratic politics. Nearly $2 billion dollars — not government money but real cash earned by real people — was poured into this race, and both the process and result left a lot to be desired.
If Sean is correct, 2012 was not the last stand of the white voter as many liberals are intimating. But it was missing in action. And for that, there’s plenty of blame to go around, starting at the top with Mr. Romney.