The White Vote Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Today there are two new articles in major newspapers describing the "narrow path" Romney has to reach 270 electoral college votes.  The Wall Street Journal piece is called Math Challenge for Romney and puts the problem like this:

Spot Mr. Romney the five biggest swing states the Democrat won four years ago—Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana—and the Republican still wouldn't be guaranteed the White House. To win, he would need to also carry at least one other state that went to Mr. Obama four years ago. ….

Romney political director Rich Beeson says the GOP candidate has a range of ways to win. Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Indiana "are states that Republicans have won in the past, and not the far-too-distant past," he said. "It's not like we have to go out and win a Maryland." …

With the election still six months off, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says much will still hinge on the state of the economy in the fall. "If the economy is grim, even states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin could come into play" for the Romney campaign, Mr. Sabato said. "If the economy looks to be improving, then the path for Romney will be truly narrow."

The Washington Post article, with the more prosaic title Romney faces a narrow path to 270 electoral votes, but his team remains optimistic, says almost the same thing:

Mitt Romney faces a narrow path to the presidency, one that requires winning back states that President Obama took from Republicans in 2008 and that has few apparent opportunities for Romney to steal away traditionally Democratic states. …

But Romney’s team acknowledges that any realistic course to 270 starts with winning back three historically Republican states that Obama won in 2008 — Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia — and believes that changing demographics in Virginia present a challenge.

Let's start our examination of Romney's real chances with Indiana.  As those who followed the 2008 race may remember, Indiana was in the McCain column all the way up to election day.  After Obama squeaked out the win, there were many post-mortems but one telling factor was that Obama had more than 30 offices and McCain had none. Another was that African American turnout in Indiana that year was like nothing that had been seen before.

This year, Obama is making a similar effort in North Carolina, with most of it under the radar. The first appearance of the voter mobilization here was in a school board race in Raleigh.  A Tea Party-backed candidate, expected to win easily, instead was "shellacked" creating a Democratic majority on the school board:

As North Carolina Republicans tell it, the Obama for America volunteers stole in under cover of night and stayed, undetected — noticed belatedly only because of election results across the state.

“It was very scary,” said Chris Sinclair, a strategist for Billie Redmond, the Republican candidate for mayor in Raleigh. “You don’t know what’s going on until you wake up after Election Day and go, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened?’ ”

What happened was that candidates supported by Democrats trounced Republicans in the Raleigh and Charlotte mayoral races this fall, and even wrested control of the Wake County school board from Republicans associated with the Tea Party.

It was only after the damage was done that local party leaders learned of the hidden hand of thousands of Obama for America volunteers and staff members. Never publicizing their work, they went door-to-door across the state, successfully getting their voters out to the polls in a highly effective dry run for 2012.

“I have said to all of my Republican friends, ‘This is real,’ ” Mr. Sinclair said of the Obama organization. “I’ve seen it; I’m coming off the front lines — it ain’t fun and we better be ready.”

All of this sounds a little mysterious, but it is really quite easy to explain. The population of North Carolina is 22% African-American and 75% white. The Obama campaign is turning out voters and, in particular, black voters. All Obama needs is around 35% of the white vote and he wins North Carolina.  The United States has never had a black President before, so all previous voting history is pretty much useless for making predictions. In fact, the voting history in 2008 really is the best predictor of how a state is going to go in 2012.

So far I have received three calls from people claiming to be from the Obama campaign.  Each time I have told them the same thing – stop calling me!  I attended two Obama events in 2008, one in Miami and one in Chapel Hill, but neither time did I give out personal information (especially my cell phone).  I have no idea how they got my number.

I imagine that the WASP Republican base thinks their outreach to Catholics and Jews will broaden their coalition, but the problem is all the other "minorities" that they have alienated.  Besides the traditional ethnic minorities, the short list now includes liberals, LGBTs, union sympathizers, government employees, the poor, atheists, young adults, teachers and the college educated in general. And let's not forget African Americans. One more story from 2008:

I was living in Durham at the time and an "at-large" school board seat was being contested by two white women and a black man. The man was a former sniper from Operation Desert Storm and cited his experience shooting people to the local newspaper when asked for an example of his "helping others".  I actually received a "voting list" that year which included this man's name from the African American owner of my son's day care but, needless to say, I wasn't going to vote for that guy! He received 49% of the vote that November, with the remainging 51% being split between the two white women, so a runoff election was scheduled. When I went to vote in the local church the next month, the place was deserted.  The second time around, the remaining white woman received 85% of the vote and the black man received 15% with very low turnout.  

Historically, black voters don't turn out at the polls, but that is no longer a good general assumption. There has been much speculation that 2008 was an anomoly, but Obama is their man and every black person that I know still respects him. I realize that I only have a single data point, but I predict that, in any election with Obama's name on the ballot, black people will come out in droves. So in a state like North Carolina with lots of blacks, white opinion really isn't so important.

Game, Set, Match – Obama.

Update 2:40: Here is the latest from McClatchy: Mitt Romney's team sees a path to winning the presidency

The biggest predictor of electoral success is usually a state’s voting history, said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. By that measure, he saw North Carolina and Indiana leaning Republican. Virginia, which has seen an influx of urban professionals and immigrants in recent years, now trends Democratic.

Almost all these exercises start with a list of states that Romney "must win" and then either rationalize or completely gloss-over how he might do that.  As a counter-example to this argument that a state's "voting history" is more important than how it went in the last election cycle, consider West Virginia.  If we buy the "historic trend" argument, then Obama does not even have to campaign there since it "almost always" goes Democratic in Presidential Elections. In fact, Obama will not campaign in West Virginia because he has no chance there in 2012.  

Of course, Romney will campaign in North Carolina and Virginia, basically because he has six months to kill before being defeated soundly in November. Nothing he does will make any difference, the outcome at this point is set. Obama now has more than enough electoral votes to win re-election, not including North Carolina (which he will carry as well).

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5 comments to The White Vote Doesn’t Matter Anymore

  • BC

    LOL – you get an A+ for optimism.  72% of the vote no longer matters?  The election will be decided on the economy – let's talk in October and see where we're at.

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    • diversity_usa

      You sound like Mitt Romney. I guess you are wishing for the economy to tank so that Romney, who represents the 1%, wins. Check out Ezra Klein’s election predictions tool that uses your favorite economic numbers: Obama wins!!!

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      • BC

        I sound like Romney?  I think I sound like a lot of people in the country that are struggling to make ends meet.
        Wasn't talking about today's nonfarm payroll # nor do I wish the economy to tank.  My premise is the economy is still very tight, but has been improving for the past year.  My sense is that the economy is bad enough that enough voters will hold Obama responsible and vote him out in the same way that Bush Sr. and Carter got voted out on weak economies.
        As for Klein's prediction tool – all you need to do is buy gas or food and you can see the oil and printing based inflation.  My comments are not about politics.  People vote with their pocket books – pretty simple stuff.

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  • itaest

    Hey Tom, what is the number in parenthesis in ?

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    • Tom

      The two senators plus the number of representives for each state.  These are the electoral college votes.  The total is always 538, so a candidate needs 270 to win.  A 269-269 tie is theoretically possible.  All states except two (Nebraska and Maine) award all their electoral votes to the popular vote winner in the November election in that state.

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