JONATHAN CHAIT APRIL 1, 2011
The most important factor shaping the political landscape in 2012 is the economy. But on top of that, the growth of the minority population continues to slowly tilt the electorate toward the Democrats. And it's not as slow as you think. Ron Brownstein has a must-read about how this trend will effect 2012. The nonwhite share of the adult population is growing at about 0.5% a year, meaning that -- if every group votes at the same rate as before -- nonwhite will constitute 2% more of the electorate in 2012 than they did in 2008. That's a lot.
The big picture is that President Obama can continue to lose white voters pretty badly. He won just 43% of the white vote in 2008, and can win reelection with an even lower share next year. Brownstein breaks it down state by state:
Once we established an estimated minority share of the vote for each state in 2012, we ran two simulations. One projected that Obama would win the same share of minority voters in each state that he did in 2008; the other assumed that he would lose 10 percent of his previous minority share. (That scenario approximates the falloff between the 80 percent of minorities that Obama won in 2008, and the 73 percent that Democrats captured in 2010, according to the exit polls.) In each case, we then calculated the share of the white vote that Obama would need to win each state.
The exercise shows that, compared with 2008, the road would bend toward Obama, at least slightly, just about everywhere. Most important would be the changes in the states atop each side’s priority list for 2012.
Obama, for instance, won Florida last time with 42 percent of the white vote; under this scenario, if he maintains his minority support he could win the Sunshine State with just under 40 percent of the white vote. With equal minority support in Nevada, the president could win with only 35 percent of the white vote, down from the 45 percent he garnered in 2008. Likewise, under these conditions, Obama could take Virginia with just 33.5 percent of whites, well down from the 39 percent he captured last time. In New Jersey, his winning number among whites would fall to just over 41 percent (compared with the 52 percent he won in 2008). In Pennsylvania, under these circumstances, 41 percent of white votes would be enough to put the state in Obama’s column, down from the 48 percent he won in 2008.
Now, I'm not arguing that Obama should ignore white voters. (As Arrseted Development's GOB put it, when being shivved by White Power Bill, "I'm white!") But Obama's challenge with the white vote is increasingly dwindling down to the task of picking off elements within it. He's still strong with young voters, and the Republican offensive against unions is driving even the most Republican-friendly elements, like cops and firefighters, into the Democrats' arms.
Again, if the economy double-sips, or some massive scandal emerges, then Obama is probably in deep trouble. But the underlying dynamics really are very friendly for his reelection.