On Tuesday Nov. 6, President Barack Obama secured an additional four years in office. He did so by winning 332 electoral votes, as long as Florida is called for Obama as it appears it will be, and 50.3 percent of the popular vote.
When breaking down that vote into specific demographics, the shifting makeup of the American electorate becomes clear – something both political parties need to address if they wish to stay relevant and competitive. In 2012, Democrats won that battle.
Fifty-nine percent of white voters supported former Gov. Mitt Romney according to early exit polls, the widest margin of victory among that demographic since 1988. Yet white voters are a declining group in the electorate – 72 percent in 2012, down from 74 percent just four years prior. A strong majority of white male voters, consistently the Republican Party’s base, is no longer all it takes to win a national election.
Obama won, simply, by building a coalition among minority voters. Sure, he lost the white vote. But he won nearly everything else – 45 percent of those that voted for Obama were minorities. Obama carried 93 percent of African American voters, 71 percent of Hispanics and 55 percent of female voters. He again won the youth vote, taking 59 percent of voters ages 18 to 29.
The difference this makes is that many of these populations are growing parts of the electorate, instead of declining like the white majority supporting the Republican Party. Latino voters made up 10 percent of voters in 2012, up from 2008. Hispanic voters also increased their share in crucial swing states, like Florida and Colorado, where Obama carried 75 percent.
Immigration policy will play a huge role from here on out. The contrast of strict Republican immigration policy and Obama’s comments in the Des Moines Register that immigration would be a top priority in his second term is evidence enough that alienating a fast-growing population like Hispanics will spell doom for a party’s electoral prospects.
The youth vote was crucial again in 2012. While some feared young voters would turn out in fewer numbers than in 2008, people under 30 years of age actually increased their share of the electorate slightly, increasing to 19 percent from 18 percent. In fact, the 18-to-29-year-old demographic, a typically democratic voting bloc, made up a larger share of voters overall than those over 65 years old, a group that trends Republican.
It is clear that policy must begin appealing to the youth vote. Not only do they play an increasingly important role in the electorate, the sorts of policies they support are becoming critical issues. Just look at Washington and Colorado, which both legalized recreational use of marijuana, and Maine and Maryland, which passed initiatives supporting same-sex marriage. Staunch conservatism appears to be on its way out.
The American electorate is undeniably changing and minority populations are increasing their sway. Both political parties must evolve or be left behind. The 2012 election is evidence that Obama and the Democratic Party have the advantage, at least for now.