Amid rumblings in the gleeful lamestream media about how the demographics of the evolving electorate doom Republicans to permanent minority status, there are a few glimmers of hope for conservatives in the exit polls, especially when compared to prior elections.
Perhaps most important, voters are growing more conservative with respect to the appropriate role of government. Voter attitude flipped from thinking, 51% to 43%, that the government should do more to solve the nation’s problems in 2008 to believing (by the same margin) in 2012 that the government is already doing too much. The conservative attitude in 2012 even surpassed the 49-46 margin by which voters had opposed more government involvement when Bush won reelection in 2004. So how did these voters reelect Obama? Because the “takers” are lining up better than the “makers.” Obama won reelection because he carried more of the voters who shared his governmental vision (81-17) than Romney did among the voters who shared his (74-24). The table is set for an articulate advocate for smaller government.
Rays of hope also appear for conservatives among the President’s strongest supporters. Even though Obama carried voters under 30 by a solid 60-37 margin in 2012, that deficit was a big improvement over 2008. Young whites moved dramatically, from favoring Obama over McCain, 51-44, to backing Romney by 10 points, 54-44. Even as older minority voters were moving even more toward Obama, young minority voters moved a few points toward Romney. When it comes to the youth vote, Democrats may be premature in hanging the “Mission Accomplished” banner.
While African Americans were Obama’s most devoted supporters, their support actually receded 2 points this year. Black defection was most notable among young blacks (4 points) and black men (7 points). Perhaps greater improvement is possible once a black president is no longer on the ticket or in office.
Obama’s hostility towards Israel took its toll. His 69-30 margin among Jewish voters obscured the fact that Jews trended more Republican in 2012 than any other religious group. While most religious groups of voters (including atheists) moved about 3 points from Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012, Jewish voters made the same move by 9 points. While the 2012 Republican rebound failed to bounce all the way back to Bush’s levels for Catholics and Protestants in 2004 and improved over Bush’s 2000 performance by a single point, the Republican Jewish vote improved 5 points over 2004 and 11 points over 2000. Whether the shift is sui generis to 2012 or persists like the Democrat gains among “other religions” in 2004 and atheists in 2008 remains to be seen.
Obama’s support among other key parts of his base may have been overstated. With all the racket from labor unions, you’d think union families would have been nearly unanimous for the President. But Romney won 40% of them. And that’s not really new. George W. Bush also won 40% of the vote from union families in 2004, and even John McCain won a substantially similar 39% in 2008.
Similarly, while gay, lesbian and bisexual voters gave Obama a 76-22 majority in 2012, that was no different than their support for Kerry when Bush won reelection in 2004. (McCain had actually run 6 points better among those voters, but Obama’s position switch on gay marriage won them back.) At least this election didn’t break any new ground with this group. Since gays tend to have relatively high disposable income, Republicans have the potential to fare better with them when economic issues become more important.
Finally, Obama’s 2008 success in rallying both the upper and lower classes against the middle was not repeated this year. His campaign’s appeals to classic FDR-era class warfare backfired. Voters with family incomes over $200,000 flipped from 52-46 for Obama in 2008 to 54-45 for Romney. Obama’s specific targeting of incomes exceeding $250,000 was not well received by voters earning that much, as Romney carried them by 13 points, 55-42. Obama had expected to offset those losses with big gains among voters with family income under $50,000, but their support remained flat.
Conservatives have their work cut out for them in the near future, but prospects aren’t as gloomy as they appeared on election night.