New Demographic Data on the 2012 Presidential Election

The recent release of the Census Bureau’s Voting and Registration data from the Current Population Survey finally allows us to look deeper into the population that turned out to vote this last November.  And the results are quite astonishing.

For the first time, in a long history of disenfranchisement and suppression, African-American voter turnout surpassed the turnout rate among whites.  2012 was a low-turnout election overall, especially when compared to 2008, and the turnout rates among most of the major racial and ethnic groups went down from 2008 rates.  The turnout rate among blacks in 2012, however, went up.

National Turnout Rates for 2012 Election by Race

* Turnout is measured here as total votes divided by the voting-age citizen population. Data are from the CPS microdata for the Voting and Registration Supplement.

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Lower turnout in 2012 makes the case for political realignment in 2008

Now that most states have finalized and submitted their official election results (yes, it does take that long), we can take a closer look into state and local turnout rates for the 2012 presidential election.

But first, an overview of the results…

As we all know, Barack Obama will be starting his second term after he is inaugurated in a couple of days.  While it would probably be hasty to say that Obama received a huge “mandate” from the election back in November, it’s fair to say he defeated Mitt Romney handily, with room to lose battleground states and still win.  In fact, one of the more surprising results from the presidential election is how little the electoral map changed from 2008.  The county-level results for 2012 and 2008 below illustrates this point:

GIF Animation of Nation Election Outcomes 2008, 2012

Obama’s margins over his Republican challenger shrunk in most battleground states and was enough to flip Indiana and North Carolina, the only two states to switch between 2008 and 2012.  But despite the slow and tenuous economic recovery, high unemployment, a controversial health reform law, and a slew of other things Obama had going against him during the campaign, nothing much changed.  This was also despite lower turnout rates across the country.

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Virginia Votes 2012: Turnout across localities

About two-thirds of Virginians voted last Tuesday!

65.3% of eligible Virginians voted in last week’s presidential election (based on unofficial results and an estimate of the number of eligible voters in Virginia*).  This represents a modest decline from 2008, when 66.7% of eligible Virginians voted, but the drop off in 2012 is minor at less than 2% and turnout in 2012 is still on the high end for Virginia historically.

Graphic showing voter turnout in Virginia over the past three decades

How does turnout across the state in 2012 compare to 2008?

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Virginia Votes 2012

Now that the votes are cast, we have some real electoral data to explore. My first question was how the distribution of Obama’s vote in Virginia in 2012 compared to 2008.

Using the unofficial results currently reported by Virginia’ State Board of Elections (with 2,573 of 2,588 precincts reporting), I plotted the percent of votes cast for Obama in 2012 and 2008 by county. The diagonal line shows the point at which vote shares in 2012 are the same as in 2008.

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Forget Ohio, it’s all about Virginia…and demographics

In my humble opinion, the biggest news coming out of the election last night was not Ohio.  Instead, the polling results coming out of Virginia, that heavily favored Obama early in the evening, set the tone for the entire night.  The story of what happened in Virginia exemplifies where our politics in this country now stand.  Obama’s repeat victory in the Old Dominion underscores what was probably the biggest factor in the 2012 election: demographics.

For our regular readers, especially those who read our Red State, Blue State report back in July, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.  Ohio, Florida, and other swing states are used to the attention and have been “purple” for a long time now. Obama’s repeat victory in Virginia, however, a state that has voted consistently for Republican presidential candidates before 2008, is really big news.  More than anything else, Obama’s victory in Virginia means that 2008 wasn’t a fluke, but rather represented a fundamental political realignment in the country.

That realignment is bad news for Republicans.  The Republican party has serious demographic problems.  Virginia’s shifting demographics, like that of the nation, have been dramatic in just the last few decades with Hispanics and Asians driving most population growth and changes in the electorate.  Republicans have had considerable difficulty gaining the votes of these groups.  In Virginia, most of the influx and growth in Hispanic and Asian populations is occurring around the Washington D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia (NoVa).  It was therefore not surprising that NoVa was the focus of the national news media, and results from that region look more like those from 2008 than from 2004.

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A trend is your friend: the latest unemployment and poverty numbers

In this presidential election year, the public seems particularly focused on the monthly unemployment statistics gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By now I am sure we all know how it works:

If the numbers are bad:

The Republicans tout the numbers as proof that Obama is destroying the economy, and Democrats make an attempt to assure everyone that one month’s numbers don’t mean anything.

If the numbers are good:

The Democrats tout the numbers as proof that Obama is improving the economy, and Republicans make an attempt to assure everyone that one month’s numbers don’t mean anything.

Last month’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.8% from 8.1% in August. Is this drop extraordinary? No. Will the unemployment rate continue to drop? Maybe. Is this a left-wing conspiracy to make Obama look good in the last few months of the campaign? Absolutely not. Let me explain…

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Who’s winning the money game? Understanding campaign finance statistics

The big story right now in the money contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is how the Republican challenger has been out-pacing the President in fundraising in recent months.  In July, Obama and the DNC raised a total of $59 million while Romney and the RNC raised $78 million.  But like all statistics (especially financial ones) the true story behind the numbers is a lot more complicated.

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Red State, Blue State: Demographic Change and Presidential Politics in Virginia

Today, the Cooper Center released a new report  on demographic shifts in Virginia and how they will impact the upcoming election.  Co-authoring this publication has provided me with the opportunity to connect some of the different topics highlighted in this blog and provide much more in-depth analysis on the demographic factors that will come to play a big role this November.  If you have been following us these last few months you will no doubt recognize some of the material, but I encourage our regular Stat Chat followers to take a look.  Michele and I have tried to paint an accurate portrait of the role demography has played in presidential politics in the Old Dominion and have made every attempt at putting all of the data and numbers into context for our readers.

Some of the questions we investigate:

1.  Was the 2008 Democratic victory in Virginia an aberration or a herald of change?

2.  Has urbanization and the growing influence of Northern Virginia finally tilted Virginia from a solidly “red” state to a “blue” state?

3.  Will minority turnout be the deciding factor in Virginia?

4.  Can young voters in 2012 match the electoral strength of their older counterparts?

Happy reading.