Obama's victory is a testament to a changing America
Romney's coalition bore a striking resemblance to John McCain's four years ago
Romney won a small majority of independents, but not enough to make a difference
Results show Republican party facing a demographics problem
If you want to understand the historical magnitude of President Obama’s re-election victory, start with this fact: He lost the white vote by 20 points. In 1988, Mike Dukakis lost white voters by 19 points. He was crushed in a 40-state landslide.
Obama’s victory is a testament to a changing America. The president won a second term in the face of a weak economy by reassembling the bulk of his 2008 coalition: Hispanics, African-Americans, younger voters and single women. Mitt Romney’s support was older, whiter, and more Protestant than the president’s – a faded shadow of a time gone by.
It also bore a striking resemblance to Sen. John McCain’s coalition four years ago.
A few specifics: Obama won Latino voters by nearly 40 points – a slightly larger margin than his total over McCain four years ago – while the Latino share of the total vote crept up from 9% to 10%. Romney’s tough talk on illegal immigration and self-deportation may have helped him win the GOP nomination, but it cost him in the fall.
Black voters were 13% of the total electorate, the same share as in 2008 but a bump up from typical modern turnout levels. The first black president’s share of the black vote actually dropped a couple of points, but was still far north of 90%. Talk of black alienation because of resistance on issues like same-sex marriage was overblown.
Voters age 18 to 29 comprised a slightly larger share of the electorate than in 2008, an outcome contrary to the media narrative of a disenchanted youth alienated from the political process. Obama’s share of the young vote declined a bit, but he still won it well in excess of 20 points.
In the final days before the election, hopeful Republicans played up polls showing Romney running away with the independent vote. It didn’t pan out. Romney won independents by 4% – a healthy 12-point swing for the GOP compared to 2008 – but it wasn’t nearly enough to save the former Massachusetts governor.
Republicans also hoped a 7-point Democratic Party ID turnout edge over the GOP in 2008 would shrivel this time around. It didn’t. Democrats maintained a 6-point edge on Tuesday.
In the critical Rust Belt state of Ohio, Obama may have been saved by the 2009 auto industry bailout. Ohio voters approved of the bailout by a 23-point margin, and bailout supporters in the Buckeye State backed the president over Romney by about 50 points.
Perhaps in a related vein, Obama won 42% of working class whites in Ohio, compared to 36% of working class whites nationwide – a critical difference in the tightly contested state.
Where does the GOP go from here? The Republican brand remains extremely strong among southern whites and religious voters in particular. Conservative leaders can find solace both in their tightening grip on the House of Representatives and a promising political bench featuring rising stars like Wisconsin rep. Paul Ryan, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, to name just a few.
But even the most cursory glance at the results of the past two presidential elections makes it clear that the Republican Party is now facing a growing demographic problem. It risks permanently losing a new generation of Americans – a generation central to Obama’s twin White House victories.
How Republicans address this problem will play a huge role in determining the shape of American politics long after Obama himself has exited the political stage.