President Barack Obama won re-election because he was able to garner the support of a multiracial, multiethnic, cross-class coalition that believes in a progressive agenda for America. Communities of color overwhelmingly supported his vision to move our country forward: Polls show that President Obama won 75 percent of the Latino vote, more than 90 percent of the African American vote, and 73 percent of the Asian American vote, as well as 39 percent of white non-Hispanic voters.
According to various polls conducted by the NAACP, National CAPCD, and Latino Decisions, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans—along with the rest of the American electorate that supported the president—overwhelmingly cited the economy and jobs as their top issue in the 2012 election. By far, they said, the vision and policies that President Obama put forth resonated with large majorities of them.
Their level of concern about the economy is not surprising given the challenges communities of color face on many economic and social fronts. Latinos and African Americans continue to face high unemployment rates of 9.9 percent and 13.4 percent, respectively. What was different in this election, however, was that the changing face of our nation makes it imperative to act upon solutions to promote the economic well-being of all our citizens. The president’s focus and values—be it on investments to strengthen and grow the middle class, a fair tax plan, an outstanding public education system, or affordable health care coverage—resonated deeply with these communities and many other Americans, including white non-Hispanic voters.
This year’s election gave us a glimpse into the future, as the ranks of native-born Americans of color swell across the nation, driven mainly by the growth within the Latino and Asian American communities. According to the Thomas Rivera Policy Institute, 48 percent of all U.S. citizens currently under the age of 18 in Texas are Latinos; in Florida, it’s 27 percent; and in Colorado, 30 percent. Nationwide, the Asian American community alone has seen 46 percent growth from 2000 to 2010 according to the Census Bureau. This demographic shift is not just happening in the usual gateway cities but is also apparent in the heartland—a trend that will continue regardless of immigration fluctuations, as it is driven mostly by U.S. births.
The turnout of this diverse electorate sends a clear message to any public official who seeks national office: We need a policy agenda to help restore the American Dream of social and economic mobility for all and support a progressive vision grounded in the notion that our economy should work for everyone, not just for the wealthy few.
Below is an overview of how people of color voted in key battleground states and the issues that motivated them to do so.
The black and Latino vote both were crucial to the blue win in Virginia, just as they were in 2008. President Obama retained strong support from communities of color in much the same way that he did in 2008. He took 93 percent of the African American vote, 65 percent of the Latino vote, 64 percent of the Asian American vote, and 37 percent of the white non-Hispanic vote.
Demographic changes in the state also played a significant role. Voter turnout was higher in areas that have been experiencing demographic shifts such as the areas surrounding northern Virginia, Richmond, and Virginia Beach. In 1970 northern Virginia accounted for 12 percent of the state’s population; by 2010 it more than doubled to greater than 30 percent. As the Washington suburbs have expanded, northern Virginia has become more diverse and better educated. According to exit polls, key counties in northern Virginia such as Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax supported President Obama by 52 percent, 57 percent, and 59 percent, respectively. Nearly 40 percent of Loudoun County, 55 percent of Prince William County, and 47.7 percent of Fairfax County are people of color.
Though many believe the white non-Hispanic vote was unimportant for President Obama’s victory in Virginia, the opposite is actually true. Whites supported the president at a higher rate than they supported Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in 2004—32 percent versus 37 percent in Virginia. This shows that President Obama’s message also resonates with white voters, particularly those in northern Virginia, who tend to be more educated than the rest of the state. Northern Virginia has grown by 24 percent in the past decade, fueled by rapid increases in people of color and white college graduates, and the region casts a third of Virginia’s total ballots.
Virginia Latino voters listed the economy and jobs and immigration as their top two issue-area priorities at 55 percent and 42 percent, respectively. According to Latino Decisions, 53 percent of Virginia Latinos agreed that “President Obama cares about the Latino community,” compared to 18 percent who thought that the Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did.
The black vote was similarly a key to President Obama winning Virginia. According to exit polls, African Americans accounted for 21 percent of those who voted in the state last week, and 94 percent backed the president. This group came out in larger numbers than in 2008, when the black vote made up about 20 percent of the Virginia electorate and supported President Obama by 92 percent.
The Asian American population in Virginia was also essential in re-electing President Obama. Virginia’s Asian American population drastically increased in the past decade, growing 68 percent in the past three years alone—much of which is centered in Northern Virginia, where high numbers were recorded for President Obama. In 2000 Asians and Pacific Islanders made up 6.6 percent of the population of the Virginia counties closest to Washington, D.C.; a decade later that number had more than doubled to 13.6 percent.
All in all, the fact that President Obama had support from both communities of color and white voters in Virginia is why the state went blue—and why he was re-elected.
Colorado went blue this year primarily because of the high turnout in the Latino community. Latino Decisions polls show that 87 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama—an increase from 2008, when he carried 61 percent of the Latino vote. According to exit polls, key counties that have large numbers of Latinos overwhelmingly voted for President Obama. Pueblo County, which is 41.4 percent Latino, voted for the president at 55 percent, similar to Adams County, which is 38 percent Latino and also voted for President Obama at 56 percent. The president also enjoyed 44 percent of the white non-Hispanic vote, an increase of 2 percentage points from the support white Coloradans gave Sen. Kerry in 2004. African American and Asian American voters were not as crucial in Colorado as in other states, since they each make up just 3 percent of the Colorado electorate.
In 2010 the Latino population in Colorado reached 1 million—accounting for one in five Coloradans. The Latino vote accounted for the entire increase in the minority share of eligible voters in the state over the past four years. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projected that the state would have about 224,000 Latino voters in this year’s election, an increase of 15 percent from 2008. Latinos currently constitute 12.4 percent of the state’s electorate and 87 percent voted for President Obama.
Latinos’ support for the president in this year’s election was not a surprise since the economy and jobs and immigration were also the top issues for the Latino electorate in Colorado, and 7 in 10 Latinos believed President Obama had a better plan for improving the economy than did Gov. Romney. This strong support helped carry the president to victory in this key battleground state.
President Obama’s victory in Florida was directly related to the mobilization of people of color, especially the rapidly growing Latino population. He kept a strong hold on the African American vote—95 percent—and saw an increase in the Latino vote from 57 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2012, with a 2 percent increase in the share of voters. The Latino community supported President Obama across the board in terms of national origin, with the highest support coming from the Dominican Republic, Central American, and Puerto Rican communities. The president also carried 37 percent of the white non-Hispanic vote in Florida.
Approximately 34 percent of eligible voters in Florida are people of color, and Latinos account for 17.4 percent of the state’s electorate, while African Americans account for 13.7 percent. Latinos contributed to President Obama’s victory by 3.1 percentage points. The growth in this electorate was driven by increases in non-Cuban Hispanics—who tend to vote Democrat—in the state.
Voter registration numbers among Latinos also increased by more than 300,000 since November 2008, with only 31,000 registered as Republicans. This means that 90 percent of Latinos who registered to vote since 2008 did so as Democrats and independents. Collectively, registered voters among African Americans, Caribbean Americans, and Hispanics increased by more than 450,000 since 2008, which is just less than double the 236,450 votes President Obama won Florida with in 2008.
According to exit polls, key counties in southern Florida such as Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach all supported President Obama by 62 percent, 67 percent, and 58 percent, respectively. These counties have larger populations of communities of color. Miami-Dade County is about 19 percent African American and 64.5 percent Latino, Broward County is 27.4 percent African American and 25.8 percent Latino, and Palm Beach is 17.8 percent African American and 19.6 percent Latino.
Latino voters in Florida listed the economy and immigration as the two most important issues facing their community, at 57 percent and 37 percent, respectively. It’s no surprise, then, that they threw their support behind President Obama given a recent poll by Latino Decisions that shows Latinos believe President Obama would do better than Gov. Romney on the economy and immigration. The widespread support of the Latino community in particular helped turn Florida blue this year, which added to his overall re-election.
President Obama’s victory in Ohio was heavily dependent on the African American vote, which came out in higher numbers for him than in 2008. Based on exit poll data, President Obama took 96 percent of the black vote this year and took 97 percent in 2008. The African American population also had a higher share of voters this year than in 2008—its share of voters in Ohio went up from 11 percent in 2008 to 15 percent this year.
The demographics in Ohio made it a harder state for the president to carry because 84 percent of the state’s population is white, and overall they supported Gov. Romney at 57 percent. Gov. Romney won the white vote (both white men and women) at higher numbers than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) did in 2008. White men voted for Gov. Romney at 63 percent to 36 percent for President Obama—Sen. McCain won 53 percent to 45 percent in 2008—and white women voted for Gov. Romney at 53 percent to 46 percent for the president, about the same margin from four years ago. The white vote in Ohio overall, however, was 79 percent—about 4 points down from 2008. Forty-one percent of white non-Hispanic Ohioans gave their support to President Obama.
There is also a relatively small population of Latinos in Ohio, at 3 percent compared to the national average of 17 percent. Even so, the majority of them—54 percent—voted for President Obama.
African Americans make up 12.4 percent of the Ohio population, and it was therefore this group of voters that made up the margin to bring President Obama to victory. The higher voter turnout in the black community was directly related to the increasing rates of voter registration and early voting in the black community. Voter registration in this community went up 20 percent in 2012, and early voting was up 17 percent from 2008 among African Americans in Ohio. Nationwide, based on pre-election data, the African American community had higher levels of enthusiasm about voting in this election—nearly 20 percent higher than other voters.
Additionally, among registered voters, African Americans were more likely to vote: A full 85 percent said they were “definitely voting” this year. This enthusiasm among African Americans, both in Ohio and across America, was a large part of why President Obama is heading back to the White House for a second term.
The Latino and Asian American vote in Nevada were pivotal to President Obama’s win in the state, which supported him 71 percent and 50 percent, respectively. He also kept a strong hold on the African American vote at 92 percent, even though the share of voters in this group slightly decreased—by 1 percent—from 2008. White non-Hispanics also supported the president at 43 percent—the same percentage points that white Nevadan voters gave Sen. Kerry in 2004.
The Latino and Asian American communities in the state have grown exponentially in the past decade. According to the Census Bureau, the state’s Latino and Asian communities make up 27 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively, of the state’s population and have grown at a rate of 82 percent and 116 percent, respectively, from 2000 to 2010. The Asian American community saw a 2 percent increase in share of voters from 2008, and people of color comprise almost 40 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters.
According to exit polls, the two key counties to securing the president’s win in Nevada were Clark and Washoe counties, which voted for President Obama at 56 percent and 51 percent, respectively. The Latino community represents 29.7 percent of Clark County and 22 percent of Washoe County, which are located in the southeast and northwest of the state. Polls indicate that Latinos voted for President Obama by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in the state. In addition, according to exit polls, President Obama carried 50 percent of the Asian American vote—an increase of 3 percentage points from 2008.
Polls also show that when it comes to the issues, communities of color in Nevada believe President Obama will solve their state’s toughest problems. Latinos in Nevada listed the economy and immigration as the two most important issues impacting their communities at 54 percent and 40 percent, respectively. When it comes to the issue of immigration, Latinos in Nevada were more enthusiastic about President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at 61 percent and less enthusiastic about Gov. Romney’s self-deportation stance, which just 5 percent of Latino voters supported.
President Obama’s vision for America resonated more with Nevadan voters than did Gov. Romney’s, which is why the state went blue in 2012.
Multiracial and multiethnic voters in key swing states and across America made their voices heard on November 6 and will do so for decades to come. People of color came out in historic numbers this year to re-elect President Obama, not simply because of his likeability but also because of the policies he has put forth and the impact that the Obama administration has had in their communities. It’s clear that the economy and immigration were key issue areas for these communities, and big margins of these populations favored the progressive vision for America put forth by President Obama over Gov. Romney’s ideas.
This election has been a wakeup call for conservatives. The majority of Americans agree with the progressive vision—that we need to build a nation that benefits all Americans, not just a select few.
Vanessa Cárdenas is the Director of Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress. Sophia Kerby is a Special Assistant for Progress 2050.