Where battle was won and lost


Electoral trends:What was most remarkable was that Barack Obama did it all again, repeating and even exceeding his 2008 electoral miracle.

Despite the disappointed expectations, the sluggish economy, and the slow pace of reform, exit polls show that the coalition of blacks, Hispanics, women, young people, trade unionists and gays again voted for him in significant majorities, and turned out to vote in, if anything, stronger numbers. In Pennsylvania, for example, African-American turnout exceeded that in the record 2008 vote.

This was a majority of minorities (although I know I should not count women – 53 per cent of the electorate – as a minority).

Republicans continue to depend heavily on older working-class white voters in rural and suburban America. Romney actually won more white votes than John McCain did, but Democrats can get well under 50 per cent of the white vote – 72 per cent of the electorate – and yet still win the presidency.

Demographic shift

Romney, however, maintained majorities among Southerners, married voters, high-income voters, regular churchgoers, Catholics, and, overwhelmingly, white evangelical Christians.

The politically most significant demographic shift since the last election is the strengthening of Obama’s support in the growing Hispanic community, now one in 10 of the electorate, but more significant in many of the swing states. Obama took 69 per cent of Latinos nationally. In Florida they account for nearly one in five voters and Obama won them by a 21 point majority, up three percentage points on 2008.

The once safe Republican Texas could, if the trend continues, become a swing state by 2020 unless the party can find a way to make inroads into the Hispanic community.

The party’s, and Romney’s, virulent hostility to “paths to citizenship” for immigrants and immigration reform generally is certainly a key factor.

The downside for Obama was his loss of ground among white men from 41 per cent support in 2008 to 36 per cent now. In the 2010 mid-term elections whites deserted Democratic candidates, supporting Republicans by 60 per cent to 38 per cent. Yet, back in the 2006 mid-term elections, Republicans held only a 4-point advantage among white voters.

Obama again won over nine out of 10 black votes (13 per cent of the electorate).

The president lost slightly among women but maintained his overall 55-45 majority support there, and has also consolidated his support among the young – 18 to 29-years-olds comprise some fifth of all voters and Obama’s majority among them is a stonking 24 percentage points, albeit down from 2008. He was backed by six in 10 voters under 30, and a narrow majority of under-40s.

Romney’s support rose among the majority of over-45s and married men who support Republicans; he significantly increased, to 30 per cent, his base among Jews largely because of his close identification with Israel; and he forged new majorities among college graduates and those who classify themselves as politically independent. Some 37 per cent identify themselves as Democrat, 33 per cent Republican, and 30 per cent independent.

The economy

Six out of 10 voters saw the state of the economy to be key to their vote, with that group breaking 51-47 for Romney. Three-quarters of voters said that economic conditions were not good or poor, and just over half said the country was on the wrong track. But 53 per cent approved of Obama’s job performance despite the reality that no incumbent since FDR in 1936 has won re-election with unemployment running at over 7.2 per cent – one in two blamed George W Bush for the mess the president inherited.

Paradoxically three-fifths of voters say they oppose raising taxes to help cut the deficit, echoing Romney, but almost half support higher taxes on incomes over $250,000, as Obama suggests.

Significantly, even among Republicans, support for repeal of Obama’s flagship controversial healthcare reforms is muted: just a quarter of voters want to repeal all of it and the same again, only part of it.

Hurricane Sandy also clearly helped Obama’s standing: three-fifths of those surveyed said it was a factor in their vote, with half the latter saying it was an important one.

Although the passage of a number of liberal referendums, such as those on gay marriage in Maryland and Maine, suggests that America is becoming a more liberal place, polls show voters to be more ideologically polarised than in 2008 and 2004.

Among voters the proportion who describe themselves as “moderates” dipped slightly to 41 per cent, while 25 per cent called themselves liberal, the highest share saying so in recent exit polls. A total of 35 per cent called themselves conservative, about the same as the previous two presidential contests.