The largest divergence among conservative and liberal polling critics this election is the debate over who will actually show up at the voting booth this November. Differences between the amounts of Democrats versus Republicans included in the poll are frequent. But embedded in each of these assumptions are questions on the racial make-up and how that varies from election to election. Democrats consistently talk about the “coalition of the ascendant” where the fastest growing segments of the population are minorities. As such they make up an ever-increasing segment of the voting population but also vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats. With a shrinking white population and a growing minority population Democrats argue demography as destiny and count on political majorities for the coming generation. That may be true if everything in life moves in a straight line (it doesn’t) but is that true today?
Let us first of all quickly consider that the Republican party really fits Hispanic or Latino values if it were not for the immigration issue and even with that diversion the issue of jobs, traditional marriage, pro-life and future quality of life for their children are still strong considerations. And let us also remember that blacks were primarily Republicans from the time of Lincoln until the civil rights legislation of JFK and LBJ, originally introduced by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was passed and struck a deal with MLK for their votes, but as blacks move up the socio-economic ladder many become conservatives.
This is the bone of contention between the competing Presidential campaigns and critics of today’s polls. Democrats want to argue the steep increase in minority percentage of the voting electorate from 2008 election was a fundamental shift in the electorate whereas Republicans want to argue the steep increases were a one-off bounce. Both agree on the general direction of the trend. Neither agree how severe that trend will be in 2012. This disagreement is the basis for Democrat over-confidence and lopsided polling today in an election where the two candidates are most likely within 1-2% of one another.
What’s missing in all this analysis is who did not show up in the 2008 election: White voters. Looking back at those results, every voter turnout rate by race (relative to eligible population) was up versus 2004 except the white vote according to Pew Research (April 30, 2009). Blacks were up +4.9%, Hispanics were up +2.7%, Asians were up +2.4%. But the percentage of White voters who showed up at the polls relative to who was eligible dropped -1.1% (Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, May 2010). This has nothing to do with minorities making up more or less of the electorate. This is simply saying from 2004 to 2008 White voter registration (which actually dropped 104k) and actual turnout of White voters (which increased 500k) did not keep up with voting age White population increases.
Within this drop of White voter turnout, over 3x as many men as women comprised those voters staying home in the election. This happened for any number of reasons ranging from a disinterested national party to a disorganized Presidential campaign to a demoralized voting block–all are true. But the bottom line is one of the advantages Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008 was that a meaningful percentage of white voters simply stayed home in 2008. Side note: for anyone who wants to pin the depressed turnout on racism, wouldn’t the opposite have occurred in 2008 if racism really were a motivating factor in the white turnout?
Where this trips up the Obama campaign.
In 2008 Democrats achieved incredible levels of voter registration and turnout of this “coalition of the ascendent” such that Blacks, Hispanics and Asians made up 24% of the voting electorate — all historic highs. Bolstering the appearance of Democrat advantage are countless media stories reporting on Mitt Romney’s struggle appealing to minority groups. Little attention is paid to Barack Obama’s (and Democrat candidates before him) difficulty appealing to White voters who made up 74% of the electorate. Such historic minority levels for the composition of the electorate are predicated on a demoralized and ineligible (meaning unregistered) white population much like in 2008, as demonstrated above.
If John McCain achieved a white voter turnout rate equal to George Bush in 2004, that would have meant 1.7 million more White votes. While all of these votes would not have gone to McCain (nor were they all in battleground states), a super-majority of these voters likely would have voted Republican considering the make-up of the missing voter (white male — Obama’s worst demographic) and the motivated nature of the Obama voter in 2008 (i.e. if they were Obama supporters, only a scant few percent would have stayed home). Those missing votes would have been more than enough to flip the results in any of North Carolina (14k), Indiana (28.5k,), Nevada (121k), Iowa (146k), Colorado (195k), Virginia (234k), Florida (237k) or Ohio (260k) where Obama’s victory margin (in parentheses) is based on a 43% vote share of a decreased turnout.
Today Barack Obama receives approximately 40% of the White vote in polls but often dips below this level especially when polls fail to massively over-sample Democrats. The President is also facing an increasingly enthusiastic bloc of White voters motivated to vote against him (this shows up in every survey) based on his poor record in office. Additionally, Republicans have aggressively targeted the above mentioned states with voter registration efforts reversing or seriously muting the registration advantage Obama enjoyed in 2008. Net gains for Republicans voter registrations in Nevada (53k), Iowa (140k), Colorado (91k) and Florida (240k) all speak to a very different and Republican electorate in those states. On top of registration, voter contacts from the Romney campaign surpassed 26 million eligible voters across the battleground states to date. This is as much as 10-15x as much as the McCain 2008 campaign. This does not dismiss the aggressive and active Obama re-election effort but it simply points out that compared to 2008 he is no longer battling an unarmed opponent.
All of this is to say when David Axelrod or similar Obama campaign talking heads argue aggressively for polls with a racial composition at meaningfully greater minority levels than the 2008 historic turnout, there is another side of that coin and it works heavily against the turnout models of both the Obama campaign and of the vast majority of polls being published today.
Want things to change? Help educate people and help get out the conservative, independent, evangelical and white vote!! Many are not registered.