Stephen Ansolabehere and Charles Stewart III analyse the decisive role of demographics in Obama’s victory.
Barack Obamaâ€™s victory in the 2008 presidential election marked the first time a Democrat won a majority of all votes cast for president since 1964. Political scientists had widely forecast a Democratic victory in 2008 based on the faltering economy and the shift in party identification. But there were reasons to temper confidence in such forecasts. First, similar predictions had failed in 2000, and Obama faced a candidate viewed as far more moderate than he. Second, and most significant, Obama is black. If ever there was a situation where the old politics of race would drag a Democrat down, this was it. Why, then, did Obama win? Closer examination of exit polls points to a surprising conclusion. Obama won because of raceâ€”because of his particular appeal among black voters, because of the changing political allegiances of Hispanics, and because he did not provoke a backlash among white voters. …
The percentage of blacks voting for the Democratic presidential candidate rose from 88 percent in 2004 to 95 percent in 2008; the percentage of Hispanics voting for the Democrats rose from 56 percent in 2004 to 67 percent in 2008â€”swings of 7 and 11 percent. White voters, the largest racial group, increased their support of the Democratic candidate by just 2 percentage points, from 41 percent for Kerry to 43 percent for Obama. Changes in turnout further magnified the swing in support. Whites represent a dwindling share of the electorate: 81 percent in 2000, 77 percent in 2004, and 74 percent in 2008. Blacks, by contrast, increased from 10 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2004 to 13 percent in 2008; Hispanics increased from 6 percent in 2000 to 8 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in 2008. Of the two effects, increased support of Democrats by nonwhite voters was critical. Had the racial composition of the electorate stayed the same in 2008 as it was in 2004, and had whites remained as supportive of Republicans as they were in 2004, Obama would still have won the popular vote, albeit by a much smaller margin. But, had Blacks and Hispanics voted Democratic in 2008 at the rates they had in 2004 while whites cast 43 percent of their vote for Obama, McCain would have won.
Republicans cannot increase white birthrates or diminish black and Hispanic, but they could relinquish Nativism and recognize that illegal aliens overwhelmingly come here to perform work that Americans want and need done at wage rates Americans can afford to pay.
Conservative leaders (Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin among others) made a big mistake in whipping up the base on the illegal aliens issue. Roman Catholic ethnic voters who work for a living and have strong family values are natural Republican voters. We just need to woo them away from the politics of dependency and group grievances. We need to stop playing law-and-order games with respect to people really guilty at root only of the voluntary exchange of labor for money made illegal by ill-considered, out-of-control immigration laws mired in occult political processes and intractable to reform.
Hat tip to Daniel Lowenstein.