The outcome of the 2012 presidential election will depend largely on two things: the shifting demographics and the economic health of the United States. It remains to be seen whether the diverse and professional electorate that brought President Barack Obama victory in 2008 will stand behind him next year—or whether Republicans will benefit from the weak economy and conservative support. On November 22 CAP hosted an event exploring the demographic and economic implications for the 2012 election and presented a new report, “The Path to 270: Demographics versus Economics in the 2012 Presidential Election.”
After her welcoming remarks, CAP Vice President for New American Communities Initiatives Daniella Gibbs Leger introduced CAP Senior Fellows Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, authors of “The Path to 270.” Teixeira gave a presentation based on the report, in which he identified three populations that will have a deciding influence in the 2012 election: minorities, white college graduates, and the white working class.
In 2008, Teixeira said, President Obama performed very well with minority voters across the board; 80 percent of them voted Democrat while only 20 percent voted Republican. President Obama held his own with white college graduates; 47 percent of them voted Democrat and 51 percent voted Republican. Within the white working class, however, President Obama won only 40 percent of the vote; 58 percent of them voted Republican.
Teixeira pointed out the demographic shifts between 2008 and 2012 should help President Obama. The minority share of voters should be about 28 percent in 2012, up from 26 percent in 2008. And there should be a decline of 3 points in white working-class representation in the 2012 election and a gain of about 1 point for college-educated whites.
Teixeira said that he thinks President Obama’s current strategy of focusing on creating jobs and helping the economy “makes a fair amount of sense.” He is also, Teixeira said, “trying to put more of the onus on the Republicans for the bad economy,” which is “a classic incumbent strategy.” And the president is bringing up “popular issues” such as “preserving Social Security and Medicare,” and “increasing tax rates on the rich to help pay for some of the things that America needs.”
“Basically,” Teixeira said, “it’s to highlight relatively extreme positions of the other side that are massively unpopular and it’s going to be hard for them to wiggle out of.” Teixeira believes this strategy will successfully bring in the votes of both minorities and white college graduates, and “lessen the pain among the white working class.”
Republicans, Teixeira said, should focus on the economy and on getting the votes of both white college graduates and the white working class. They should also try not to be “extreme,” and should “project at least an image of moderation.”
A panel discussion followed Teixeira’s presentation. Moderated by Teixeira, the panel included Ronald Brownstein, political director of Atlantic Media; Jackie Calmes, a national correspondent for The New York Times; and Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Hispanic Center.
When asked how to win over the white college graduates, Calmes said that “there may be no reaching a lot of groups when the unemployment rate is stuck at 9 percent.” She said it could be just as “historic” for President Obama to get re-elected under these economic circumstances as it was for him to get elected as the first African American president.
Calmes also talked about how Republicans are currently on the wrong side of many issues, such as evolution and immigration, and that even if President Obama loses the election, their courting of these issues will not endear them to white college graduates in the future.
Taylor said President Obama needs to change his campaign message from “Washington is broken” to “the Republicans are broken,” and that “the most interesting challenge there is probably among the young.” Although President Obama did very well in that demographic in 2008, many young voters have most likely since become disillusioned. While older voters’ lives have improved in the last three to four decades, younger voters are facing a lack of jobs and high student loan debt.
Both parties face obstacles in winning the 2012 presidential election. The country’s growing minority population, its college-educated and working-class white voters, and the state of the economy will play a big role in deciding who gets the vote.
Daniella Gibbs Leger, VP for New American Communities Initiatives
Ronald Brownstein, Political Director, Atlantic Media
Jackie Calmes, National Correspondent, The New York Times
Reihan Salam, Author, National Review Online’s The Agenda
Paul Taylor, Director, Pew Hispanic Center
Moderator and presenter:
Ruy Teixeira, Senior Fellow Center for American Progress, The Century Foundation