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Identity Politics: Yes, Racial Divides Gave Obama the Win

Whatever the impact of Sandy, ethnic voting played a huge factor in the outcome of this campaign. Obama won despite receiving the lowest share of the white vote for any victorious candidate of any party in a two-way race.  His 39% share of white voters was lower than the 42% of Mike Dukakis in 1988, when he lost 40 states. (Bill Clinton only got 36% of the white vote in 1992, but that was in a multi-candidate race).

Obama also got record lows of support for a winning Democrat in a two-way race among white Christians (less than 35%), white Catholics (40%), white Southerners (less than 30%!), rural voters (39%), white “born-again” Christians (less than 20!), and Jews (less than 70%). Not surprisingly, Romney set a record among Mormons (nearly 90%).

So despite these losses, how did Obama win? With a record urban minority turnout. For the second national election in a row, black turnout equaled white turnout, and Hispanics continue to set new records. (Hispanics were 8% of all voters in 2008, 10% in 2012). Obama won almost 100% of the tallies in urban black precincts and over 70% of Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans. Obama's support among gays went up by at least five points.

In two elections in a row, Obama has received over 15 million black votes, compared to just nine million for Clinton 20 years ago. In 2012, Obama received nine million Hispanic votes, compared to just 3.5 million for Clinton 20 years ago. The nation’s two largest minorities gave Obama a lead of roughly 20 million votes. That was too big a hole for Romney to dig out of, but he almost did it by winning an 18 million vote plurality among white voters.

Simply put, a massive minority turnout saved President Obama. (Kudos to his precinct captains for the best Democratic get-out-the-vote drive since 1960.)

Speaking of Hispanics: If Romney had matched the 38-40% of Hispanics won by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush in their successful re-election efforts, he would have narrowly won the national popular vote -- and carried Florida and Colorado.

Obama won about the same share of the black vote, and scored a 10-point gain with Asians and four points with Hispanics -- but dropped three points nationally among whites.

Obama also turned in the best Democratic performance in cities (over 70%) after FDR in 1936, who won close to 80% of the big city vote. His huge margins in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit helped him carry the crucial industrial states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.  Perhaps the auto bailout helped make the difference there.

But probably the biggest story of 2012 is the dramatic ethnic shift in the electorate. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan pummeled Jimmy Carter in a 44-state landslide, the racial/ethnic breakdown of the voters was 10% black, 2% Hispanic, and 88% white. This year, the voters were 13% black, 10% Hispanic, 3% Asian, 2% “Mixed/Other” -- while white voters were down to 72%. In his two big wins, Mr. Reagan averaged 60% among whites, 10% of blacks, 35% of Hispanics, and 60% of Asians. Plugging those averages into the America of 2012 would turn the Reagan landslides of the 1980s into barely 50% of the national popular vote.