President Obama was reelected Tuesday night in large part because of strong support from women and minorities. The lesson of his victory for both parties, but particularly Republicans, may be this: The primacy of white male voters has passed. In the modern era, it takes a diverse coalition to win the White House.
Look at the basic breakdown of Mr. Obama’s victory, according to exit polls (which may yet be revised). He won 93 percent of African-Americans, 71 percent of Hispanics, and 73 percent of Asians. He took 55 percent of the overall female vote, down only one percentage point from his comparable 2008 showing.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, won about 59 percent of the white vote. That’s the best a GOP nominee has done among whites since 1988, and not too long ago such a performance might have guaranteed a winning margin of 270 electoral votes. After all, whites still make up 72 percent of US voters.
But that percentage has inexorably grown smaller election by election. In 2008 whites were 74 percent of the electorate. Given Obama’s popularity among minorities, Mr. Romney would have needed the support of even more whites to win – and Obama did well (or well enough) among white women, particularly single and young white women.
Romney won white men by 25 points. It wasn’t enough.
As to other lessons from the preliminary exit poll data, it’s clear that Hispanics are quickly becoming a political force that national politicians must acknowledge. They increased their share of the electorate by about three percentage points; at that pace, they’ll tie or pass African-Americans as the largest minority voting bloc in 2016.
The Hispanic vote helped produce the dead heat in Florida, for instance. That’s a state Romney needed to win to have plausible paths to 270 electoral votes, and he could reasonably have expected to do well among the state’s conservative Cuban-heritage population. But Obama performed three percentage points better among Florida’s Hispanics than he did in 2008, winning 60 percent of their votes. If he emerges as the winner there, that will be a big reason.
Winning the independent vote also no longer appears to be as important as it once seemed. Romney led Obama among self-described independents, 50 percent to 45 percent. That’s a turnaround from four years ago, when Obama won them, 52 percent to 44 percent.
But independents, like whites, were a slightly smaller share of the electorate in 2012. And a declaration of independence is not necessarily indicative of a voter’s ideology. Obama won self-declared moderates, 56 percent to 41 percent. Obama also took 86 percent of the liberal vote, while Romney won 82 percent of conservatives.
Does that mean 14 percent of voters who think they’re leftish voted for Romney, and 18 percent who believe they’re to the right side of the spectrum voted for Obama? It does, according to exit polls. Sometimes it’s the little numbers that are the most surprising. [Editor's note: The percentage of voters who think they're "leftish" was incorrectly stated in the original.]