Voters of Color and Obama’s Future

Journalism professor and New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall has a perceptive overview of some racial politics issues in the current presidential campaign. He notes the 16 groups Obama’s campaign is now focusing on:

People of Faith; Veterans and Military Families; Rural Americans; Seniors; and Small Business Owners.

And then the ones in his base are the rest:

African Americans, Environmentalists, Latinos, Young Americans, LGBT Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Educators, Jewish Americans, Nurses and Women. … Obama is actively courting all of these constituencies: ending the deportation of many young workers who are in the United States illegally; endorsing same-sex marriage; loosening work requirements for welfare recipients; pressing Congress to keep student loan rates low; rejecting the proposal to build the … Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas; and promoting health-care reform….

He notes then that the problematical group is white men without college, and notes that Obama is doing commercials to appeal to these white men, many of whom have faced difficult unemployment conditions. But this is where his support is so low in the polls; he is getting only 28-29 percent of these white men without college degrees right now—the lowest percent ever in the modern era for the Democratic Party. In contrast,

Romney and the Republican Party must achieve the highest possible turnout level among whites. Republicans, including Romney, have adopted anti-immigration stands that have extinguished the possibility of boosting margins among Hispanics. … Demographic trends — the steady decline of the share of the population made up of non-college whites, from 86 percent in 1940 to 48 percent in 2007 – have made winning these voters by increasingly large margins crucial to the Republican Party….

Meanwhile, Obama is still getting strong support from his base, which includes growing numbers of voters of color.

The political “wisdom” of Democratic officials, including the Senator Obama, in running the 2008 campaign from a colorblind version of the old white racial frame–that is, ignoring issues of racism–could be seen in the significant proportion of white voters, some 43 percent, who voted for Obama in 2008. Without this significant minority of white voters, Obama would not have become president. The political “wisdom” of course contradicts a deeper morality of social justice, equality, and liberty, but then this country is not a just, equal, and free country. Even our best and most progressive politicians operate in the societal straightjacket imposed by our plutocratic and systemically racist political and economic institutions.

So, not surprisingly, in the 2008 election McCain did win 12 percent more of the white vote than Obama. CNN exit polls for 2008 revealed very significant variation in who voted for Senators Obama and McCain. Overall, whites made up about 75 percent of voters, compared to 12 percent who were black voters, 9 percent who were Latino voters, and the rest who were from other racial groups (mainly Asian). Yet only 43 percent of white voters went for Senator Obama, including just 41 percent of male voters and 46 percent of female voters. These percentages are significantly lower right now.

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the voting patterns revealed in 2008 exit polls concerned the fact that voters of color cast ballots in very large majorities for Senator Obama. Some 95 percent of black voters went for Obama, and so did 67 percent of Latino voters and 62 percent of Asian American voters. In addition, one evaluation of counties with numerous Native Americans in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado estimated that roughly 62 to 87 percent voted for Obama. Most of these voters were very aware of the pathbreaking character of having the first major party candidate of color running for the presidency, and their significant turnout for Obama was critical.

If the election had only been up to white voters in the pivotal states that Obama actually won –Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia—McCain would also have won these states, and thus the national election.

Voters of color were thus essential to Obama’s win in these states. Of course, the minority of white voters who did vote for Obama in these and other states were also important in the coalition that put him into office. Fortunately for Obama, a significant minority of whites did gravitate to the point of being willing, in the middle of a very severe economic recession, to vote for a black man, with many perhaps viewing him as an “exception to his race.

But will they do it again. In my view it is clear Obama’s chances again depend very heavily on voters of color.


  1. parvenu

    The Barack Obama that wsa elected to the presidency in 2008 was politically right of center in the political spectrum. This is the reason why he wasted so much political capital attempting to pander to the Republicans in Congress. I recall the seeming endless White House conference invitations he extended to Republican House leaders all to no avail, yet he kept at it. Back in March 7, 2012 the minority leader in the Senate , Mitch McConnell, found himself in a political bind. The Federal Prisons Industry (FPI) which awards contracts to Wall Street based members of the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) had entered the lowest bid on a Government contract for manufacturing a dress jacket that is manditory for all members of the U.S. Air Force. Unfortunately a company in McConnell’s Olive Hill district had been the usual supplier of these uniform components and if the firm lost the contract the company would have to go out of business. This would mean a loss of 100 jobs right in McConnell’s district. McConnell quickly filed legislation designed to protect against such future competition from the FPI. In the meantime a desparate McConnell rushed to the White House to petition the President for relief in the matter. Irrespective of all past abuse that McConnell had heaped upon him, including the famous statement from 2008 that “his only job is to make Barack Obama a one term president” – Barack Obama after listening to McConnell’s plea signed an order rejecting the FPI’s bid. This favor Mitch McConnell has yet to publically acknowledge, while he continues to oppose every job initiative that the president and Senate Democrats bring to the Senate floor.

    I cited this incident in Washington politics to illustrate the ideological character of barack Obama. This is also why he has been silent over the years of his first term as to the real reasons for his failure to improve the economic condition of the nation. He is naturally inhibited from telling the actual political truth to the American people – that the Republicans in Congress have WORKED to defeat every initiative put before them which was designed to stimulate the economy and provide jobs for Americans. Since such a report is completely factual it would be easy to print and distribute handouts listing the bills introduced and subsequently killed by Republican filabuster. But alas no such campaigning tactic is coming out of the White House. David Axlerod and other members of the Obama re-election team have chosen the tactic to negatively “define” Mitt Romney the Republican presidential nominee.

    Unfortunately this approach can only have limited success before the public beomes disinterested. November’s election will most assuredly be about Obama’s performance as president. The Republicans have found “the sweet spot” groove in their obama attack ads. This very effective ad shows a tired looking Obama and the background voice says very gently “you elected Barack Obama in 2008 to fix the terrible economic state that the nation was in and he tried and he tried and he tried yet he failed. Now it’s OK to try something else…” This soft gentle seemingly compassionate ad is really a powerful appeal not only to those independent voters but to members of Obama’s base.

    There are three political bombs out there that the Obama campaign has not addressed which will have definite bearing on the outcome in November.
    (1) Right after the 2008 election the Republicans destroyed the entire ACORN organization. This was done with lies and edited video “documentation” by the Republicans and with NO RESISTANCE at all from the Democrats. In 2008 ACORN was responsible for those huge African American voter turn out numbers in the inner cities of America. With NO ACORN, those votes for Obama will not be there in 2012.
    (2) The large amount of white votes that Obama received in 2008 was due to the extremely popular backlash against the two seemingly endless wars and the domestic wire tapping policies of the Bush Administration. I chaulk this large white vote for Obama up to the anti-war attitude in the country in 2008. Obama’s pledge to close “Git Mo” in Cuba although symbolic did not occur and this was a huge disappointment to this group of Obama supporters. Until recently this group was split on their support between Romney and Obama and the real question is how long will this split last? This group is likely to be swayed one way or the other by the upcoming presidential debates.
    (3) The exact deterent effect of state legislated Voter Suppression is currently unknown. We have received reports from time to time about the legal situation in two or three states; but there are 30 plus states that have enacted various forms of Voter ID laws, so there is not a clear reliable estimate for the entire country. Further more different organizations have started legal action to have these Voter ID laws set aside in some states, but no single agency is active in all 30 states. The Obama Administration announced that they were assembling a core of over a thousand lawyers who would be tasked with challenging the Voter ID laws across the nation. However I have not heard anything further as to the progress of this important project. Hence with some 100 days to go before the November election the entire Voter ID issue remains dangerously muddled, which is just as dangerous as if there were no opposition being laid against these laws.

    IMHO the concerted “Bain” attack ads that the Democrats successfully used against Romney these past months were actually designed to attract the super wealthy Democratic donors to fund some of Obama’s super Pacs, because the White House has recognized that it only has a chance if it fights fire with fire. However there must a strong movement to address the three problems that I have listed above that represent a loss of votes from 2008. In regards to the loss of ACORN the only way to offset this loss is to build an inner city agency that will be able to rekindle the enthusiasm from 2008 for the residents. These agencies would also provide assistance in helping residents secure the requred Voter photo Identification accepted at the polls. However, time itself is growing short….

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