As soon as the first results begin pouring in, the media pundits will shift into overdrive. It was women. It was white men. Obama blew it with young people. The Hispanic vote was key. No black will ever vote Republican again. The turnout favored (fill in the winner here).
It’s enough to make even the most inveterate election-night junkie want to scream at his or her television set. Surely a nation with nearly 240 million voting age people is more nuanced than the “one factor explains it all” sophomorics coming from the networks’ and cable TV land’s appointed talking heads.
So in the spirit of keeping you one step ahead of the pundits on election night, The Fiscal Times offers some basic insights into the nation’s evolving electorate. We also took a look at polls taken on the eve of the 2012 election by the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press and compared it to 2008, when the president won an historic and decisive victory.
The following data should give you enough talking points to impress your family and friends (or the guy sitting next to you at the bar) as the election results come in.
1. More people will vote in this election than ever before.
Over 131 million Americans cast ballots for president in 2008 when Barack Obama became the first African-American president in U.S. history. That represented a turnout of 57.1 percent of the voting age population, the highest level since 1968. This year, the voting age population is around 238 million, nearly 8 million more people than four years ago. Even if turnout drops to 55.7 percent – the level of President George W. Bush’s squeaker victory in 2004 – more people will vote in 2012 than in 2008.
2. The electorate is becoming more “minority,” which benefits the incumbent.
Blacks and Hispanics combined now make up nearly 30 percent of the population. While their share of voters is somewhat less (about 22 percent) and those that are registered are less likely to show up at the polls than whites, both numbers are creeping up with every election. Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, estimates minorities, 80 percent of whom backed in Obama in 2008, have increased their share of eligible voters by about 3 percentage points in the last four years. White working class voters, whom Obama lost by 18 points four years ago, have gone down by a similar amount. The share of college-educated voters in the electorate – who split their votes between the parties – has remained the same.
3. The 2010 “Tea Party” election tells us nothing about upcoming Congressional races.
Just under 87 million people voted in 2010 races that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives. That was a stunning 29 percent drop in turnout from the 122.6 million people who voted in Congressional elections in 2008, a presidential year. The shape of the next Congress will be determined by the down ballots cast by people who show up only for presidential elections.
4. The number of undecided voters who will cast ballots today is down from four years ago.
The final poll Pew poll taken late last week showed President Obama leading Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a 48 – 45 margin with only 7 percent undecided (or unwilling to offer an answer). Four years ago, Obama led Arizona Sen. John McCain by a 49-42 margin. While this election is obviously closer, the undecided will have to break decisively for Romney if he is to have any chance of winning.
5. Women are still from Venus, only more so.
The final poll from late last week showed Obama winning among all female voters by a 53 – 40 margin. That’s higher than the 51 – 40 margin he enjoyed over McCain in 2008 and suggests the president successfully erased the momentum Romney had with women after the first debate.
6. While men are still from Mars, even more so.
Obama was narrowly ahead in the male vote in 2008 by a single percentage point. This year, he trails by eight percentage points. But there are big sectional differences (see below) and that could make the difference in key swing states.
7. The youth vote isn’t really up for grabs.
It’s true that young voters 29 and under are not as enthusiastic for the president as they were four years ago. Their support has dropped two percentage points to 59 percent. But youth support for the Republican nominee has dropped even more – down five percentage points to just 31 percent in the Pew poll. That left 10 percent of youth voters still undecided. Not showing up or seeing the undecided break for Romney could be the big surprise of the evening.
8. Southern white voters have turned toward Romney.
Four years ago, Obama was losing the non-Hispanic white vote by a 49 - 42 percent as he headed into election day. This year, he was losing whites by a 54 – 39 margin. A major shift? Not really if one looks at the numbers by sections of the country. Obama has actually increased his lead in the Northeast by three percentage points to 51 – 41 percent. In the Midwest, where he is down 51 – 42, his support among white voters has slipped just two percentage points from four years ago.
The West is nearly neck-and-neck with Obama at 45 and Romney at 48 percent, a drop of just two percentage points for Obama since the last election. In the South, on the other hand, his white support has dropped a full seven percentage points to just 27 percent, while the Republican standard bearer is projected to win 66 percent of the white vote, up from 59 percent for McCain. Unfortunately, running up the vote tally in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas won’t help Romney in Colorado, Ohio and New Hampshire.
9. Minority turnout remains key to Obama’s reelection chances.
Obama’s declining white vote is offset in part by his increasing share among minority voters. Blacks overwhelmingly support the first Afro-American to sit in the White House and that group’s turnout will determine the president’s fortunes in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which have large urban minority populations. Hispanics, whose share of the vote is expected to rise another notch in this election, now favor Obama by a 66 – 27 margin compared to 62 – 31 percent four years ago. Turnout among Hispanics will matter in swing states like Florida, New Mexico and Colorado.