Demographic Blowback


The race and minority factor was very important in President Obama’s re-election. Far more than any perceived ‘gender gap’ in his favour. Simply put: every non-white group gave him nearly 70 per cent or more of its vote. Nearly 60 per cent of White voters went with Romney. The Obama tally included 73 per cent of Asian-American voters, 93 per cent of African-Americans and 71 per cent of Hispanics. There were other vital ‘gaps’ and ‘divides’ too. But the social coalition of the non-white minorities was critical. It had a strong class dimension, as well. African-American and Hispanic / Latino communities have high percentages of low-income citizens.

The New York Times analysis of the vote shows that the lower the income group, the greater the vote for Obama within it. The higher the income group, the greater Romney’s share of that vote. So class was surely a vital factor. (Not just in terms of income, though. But in terms of huge sections of largely excluded people). However, groups like the Asian-Americans are far more prosperous than Blacks or Hispanics. They went with Obama. Or step away to another kind of minority – a prosperous one: Nearly 70 per cent of Jews (a tiny but powerful minority) voted for him.

The majority of White voters went with Mitt Romney. This doesn’t mean that all in that community deserted his rival. (Just as it does not imply that no minority voters went with Romney). Whites made up a large chunk of Obama voters. Yet the majority of them was heavily with Romney. And that includes White women who gave him 56 per cent of their vote, against 42 per cent for Obama. Overall, fewer White people voted for Obama than did in 2008. As Tom Scocca puts it in Slate.com: The break up of his vote points “to 88 per cent of Romney voters being white.” Or, as Jon Wiener put it bluntly in The Nation. If only White people had voted, Mitt Romney would have swept all but four of fifty states.

Common cliché

A common cliché in poll analysis is that the Republicans are a party of tired, old, white men. And that women had voted solidly for Obama. Never mind that the tired old white men control most of the wealth in this country. (And a good chunk of it across the world). That’s another issue. Class and race were both crucial and worked here together. Yet that vital class factor in the election is worth a separate analysis. Back to race for now. Never mind that Obama did gain a majority in the women’s vote. (He got 55 per cent, to Romney’s 44 per cent). It does not alter this fact: White women still gave Romney a greater share of their vote than they gave John McCain in 2008 (53%).

Romney took a special drubbing in the large Hispanic / Latino vote. No less than 71 per cent of Hispanics favoured Obama. Over a third of Hispanic women voted for George Bush in 2004. Less than a quarter of them for Romney in 2012. Hispanics account for more than half of U.S. population growth. That holds major signals for the future.

As much as 73 per cent of the Asian American vote went to Obama. (Against 26 per cent for Romney). That is, they voted in even greater numbers for Obama in his second run than they did for him in 2008 (62 per cent). Romney’s squeals of China being a ‘cheater’ (while making money out of his own ties with that nation) did not further his cause with a large group of Asian Americans.

Both Hispanic/ Latino and Asian American communities have grown by over 40 per cent since 2000. By 2011, almost every sixth American was a Hispanic / Latino. The Asian community is much smaller at just under 5 per cent. African Americans make up 12.3 per cent of the population. Jews, 2.1 per cent. From this 35.7 per cent of the population, Obama got over 70 per cent of their vote. (In India, this would raise howls of ‘vote banks’).

Thus, Obama could lose the White women’s vote and yet lead overall. He took 55 per cent of the female vote. (Romney logged 44 per cent). As John Cassidy points out in the New Yorker: “Obama racked up enormous majorities among non-white women, who are growing in numbers. Ninety-six per cent of black women voted for Obama; seventy-six per cent of Hispanic women voted for him; and so did sixty-six per cent of women of other races, including Asians.” Since White women make up a smaller part of the electorate than they did some years ago, points out Cassidy, this overcame the setback they handed Obama. (Fact: other than African-Americans, women in the non-White groups had voted in greater proportion for a Bush in 2004 or a McCain in 2008 than they did for Romney).

America’s profile is changing fast. In a 2011 count, for the first time ever, babies born in minority groups outnumbered White new-borns. Census Bureau data placed the non-White group at 50.4 per cent of children less than a year old.

Racial venom

The racial venom spouted by Republican leaders and their efforts to scuttle the minority vote in some states may have triggered ‘blowback.’ It could have spurred many voters to the booths who might otherwise have stayed at home.

A curious claim being made about the poll is that Big Money did not work. After all, Romney & Co. spent over a billion dollars and failed. This sort of implies that the Obama-Romney duel was a David vs. Goliath battle. It wasn’t. In money terms, this was Goliath vs. Goliath v2.0. The latter won. In the last weeks, the Obama camp outspent their rivals on most counts, particularly on ads and television.

Sure, Republican candidates backed by Big Money lost several races. But Big Money candidates won enough seats to give them control of the House of Representatives. Democratic Party winners also spent countless millions of dollars. Big Money works differently. No one can now dream of running for President without a billion dollars. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on local races. Not just ‘outside’ money but by super-rich candidates, too. This excludes 99 per cent of the people from even dreaming of contesting elections.

Thomas Ferguson and Paul Jorgensen, Professors of political science (at the Universities of Massachusetts and Texas) put it another way. Big Money’s most vital impact on politics “to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors”. “The demographics of the election were crucial,” says Robert Jensen, writer and journalism professor.

“But the rhetoric now on obscures the deeper reality: Big money is more important than ever. And it comes from the corporate sector. The US dodged a bullet by re-electing Obama. But that may not mean as much as people hope it will.”

Meanwhile, on the ethnic front, some Republicans are back at work. Their candidate in 2016 may well have a Hispanic or Latino-sounding surname.

P. SAINATH is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, where this piece appears, and is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. Sainath is presently in the US teaching for the (Fall) semester. He can be reached at: Sainath@princeton.edu.

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