Which Voters Had the Most Impact?: The Election of President Obama

I ran across an interesting, if now old, account on MSNBC about the 2008 exit polling that makes a point I have not seen elsewhere. Since the 2008 election numerous analytical (media and otherwise) accounts have argued that Barack Obama won mainly or only because of younger voters, or because of new Latino voters, or because of certain other “XYZ” voters.

However, Ana-Maria Arumi, head of polling analysis for NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo did some study of the 2008 election exit-poll data:

On a state-by-state level, when she re-ran the numbers as if there were no voters under 30, the only states that would switch to Republican presidential candidate John McCain are Indiana and North Carolina.

Thus, Obama would still have won the 270+ electoral votes necessary without these young voters and these two states. She also analyzed the Latino voters’ impact:

In a counter-factual world in which there were no Latino voters, both New Mexico and Indiana would have switched into the McCain column.

Again, he would have had enough electoral votes to win if there had been no Latino voters. Then she calculated the biggest factor of all:

… in the make-believe world where no African-Americans voted, while Obama still would have won most of the states that he won, McCain would have been able to take the hotly contested states of Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Without these African American voters, and their presence in key states with 107 electoral votes, Obama would have lost the election to John McCain.

I may have missed it, but I do not remember anyone inside or outside the Democratic Party assertively giving the most central credit to African American voters for President Obama’s election. Or any discussion of this critical reality today in regard to the election of Democratic Party members of Congress in 2010 or 2012, or the reelection of President Obama in 2012.

Indeed, without African American voters no Democratic Party candidate would have won the presidency (Carter, Clinton, Obama) since the passage of the critical Voting Rights Act in 1965.

This, of course, does not mean that these other voters were not important in the election coalition that brought Carter, Clinton, or Obama to office.

It does mean that African American voters, and activists, often need to be credited with great expansions of American freedoms, past and present.

Indeed, African Americans and their activism, votes, and/or issues and goals relating to them, have been central—if sometimes invisible–in most U.S. elections since they got the vote in the 15th Amendment. This amendment was brought to the United States, ironically enough, by “Radical Republicans” in 1870. For a brief time, less than a decade, those white Radical Republicans fought to expand the rights and freedoms of African Americans. They soon lost out to a resurgent white Democratic party, substantially in the South, and to fearful, more conservative white Republicans in the North and the South. One has to wonder what the United States would be like today if this freedom-expansion agenda had been allowed to continue in the 1870s-1880s period.