23 Jan 2009

How Obama Won

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Stephen Ansolabehere and Charles Stewart III analyse the decisive role of demographics in Obama’s victory.

Barack Obama’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 race—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 2008—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.

5 Feedbacks on "How Obama Won"

Bob Sykes

The idea that working class Catholics are a natural Republican constituency is debatable. The roots of the modern Republican party go back to the Know Nothings and America parties, and these parties were strongly anti-Catholic. Anti-Catholicism was a staple of Republican politics until very recently, and it is still strongly expoused by upper class Protestant and secular white Republicans. Why should any Catholic vote Republican?


Personally, I think the Republican and democrat parties switched roles in the first half of the last century. The democrat party became the party of radical extremism, the party of the bien pensant establishment, the party of do-gooders, cranks, and social reformers. The GOP switched from being the party of the taxers and the internal improvers, of the radicals, of the monied interests against the ordinary America, to becoming the party of liberty, individualism, free markets, and the defense of ordinary middle-class Americans against the alliance of our urban elites with the canaille. The lineage of today’s Republican Party goes back to Jefferson and Jackson.


“Anti-Catholicism was a staple of Republican politics until very recently, and it is still strongly expoused by upper class Protestant and secular white Republicans.”

First, the Know Nothing Party split over the issue of slavery and it’s members became both Democrats and Republicans. To say that the Republican Party has it’s roots in the Know Nothing movement is nonsense. It is true that Democrats would call Republicans Know Nothings, in order to secure the Catholic vote, much like they scream “racist” today in order to secure the black vote. It’s also true that the Democrats were the party of the KKK, and as a result a very large part of the Democrat party was anti-Catholic.

This strategy has been used by the Democrat party for generations. “Progressive” Democrats, like Wilson and FDR, openly and willingly embraced racist southern Democrats whose political message (populism) was similar to their own. Democrats only found southerners offensive when the coalition between northern leftists and southern populists/racists broke up over northern Democrats newly found concern for black civil rights.

The Republican Party, by contrast, overwhelmingly supported the civil rights movement. Eisenhower sent the 82nd Airborne into Little Rock Arkansas to enforce black civil rights. And Republicans, unlike the Democrats, voted in large majorities for civil rights legislation. Alienated sothern Democrats did not become Republicans, they split off into the “Blue Dogs” and Dixiecrat Party. This confusion presented an opportunity for Republicans who secured the support of many southern whites without appeal to racism. In fact, any southern Republican voicing racist rhetoric has been quickly and publically condemned by the Republican Party. The same has not been true of the Democrats who still openly appeal to racist sentiment.



sallie parker

A very confused argument. America can only survive, apparently, if it kills itself.

It is unclear how white working-class Catholic “ethnics” (a largely imaginary group to begin with) carry a lesson for the various mulatto and mestizo breeds who get lumped into the “Hispanic” column. Contrary to what you suggest, very few of these non-Hispanic “Hispanics” are Catholic, although some will indeed use Catholic religious articles for pagan and sacrilegious purposes. They are much more likely to be either Bible-thumping evangelical Protestants in “Iglesia de Dios” storefront churches, or else pagans, Buddhists, nonbelievers, or whatever else happens to be popular this week. In many cases (Mexicans notably) the people come from a society with an historical antipathy to the Church, which was identified with the hated white Europeans. The religious and cultural gulf between nonwhite “Hispanics” and Americans is at least as great as the racial and linguistic differences.


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