Obama carried Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia; he leads in Florida and remained highly competitive in North Carolina, despite very weak numbers among white voters (especially working-class ones) in all of those states. That weakness was especially profound in the Southeastern states where many working-class whites are also evangelical Christians. But in Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia, Obama captured about half of the college-educated women (he won just over two-fifths of them in Florida). And in all four states, he benefited from huge margins among minority voters; in both Florida and Nevada, the minority share of the vote compared with 2008 increased by 5 percentage points, a stunning increase over one cycle and a testament to the Obama campaign's registration and mobilization efforts.
In the Rust Belt, the story was very different. Rising minority turnout boosted Obama in Michigan and Ohio, and he carried about half or more of college-educated white women in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin. But in those states, the key to his success was his ability to perform slightly above his national average among blue-collar white men and well above those levels among blue-collar white women. Obama won just under half of those women in Ohio and over half of them in Iowa and Wisconsin. That strength was rooted in the popularity of the auto bailout, an improving economy — and, perhaps above all, the emotional power (in a region scarred by decades of plant closing) of his campaign's portrayal of Mitt Romney as a corporate raider who shut down factories while enriching himself.
Romney's meager Electoral College vote haul continued a glum streak for the Republican Party. No GOP nominee since 1988 has carried more than the 286 Electoral College votes that George W. Bush won in 2004. Romney won just 20 percent of the available Electoral College votes outside the South (defined as the 11 states of the Old Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma). That's just below the party's average of 21.1 percent from 1992 to 2008, the smallest share of non-Southern Electoral College votes the party has captured in any five-election sequence since its founding in 1856. Demographically and regionally, the Republicans today are effectively competing for a narrower band of voters than the Democrats, at least in presidential campaigns. And demography offers no respite from those pressures.
"That 28 percent [minority-vote share of the electorate] will be 31 percent probably in 2016, and then it will be 34," notes Matt Barreto, a founder of Latino Decisions, a polling firm that specializes in Hispanic voters. To win future elections, Republicans will need to either improve their minority performance or win even higher percentages of whites. "So it's either going to get scarier in terms of those huge racial divides," he says, "or the Republicans are going to have to sit up and say, "˜How can we cut into the Latino, African-American, and the Asian-American vote?'"
This article appeared in print as "Future Shock."
This article appeared in the Saturday, November 10, 2012 edition of National Journal.