Center for American Progress

RELEASE: The Return of the Obama Coalition: A Demographic Analysis of Election 2012 Results
Press Release

RELEASE: The Return of the Obama Coalition: A Demographic Analysis of Election 2012 Results

Washington, D.C. — The Center for American Progress today released an analysis, titled “The Return of the Obama Coalition,” detailing how a potent mix of demographics, a steadily improving economy, a clear rejection of the GOP’s extreme conservatism, and an embrace of pragmatic progressive policies on social and economic issues propelled the president and his party to victory. As a result, President Barack Obama becomes the first Democrat since Franklin Delano Roosevelt—and the only president since Ronald Reagan—to win two consecutive elections with more than 50 percent of the popular vote. Although the election was closely contested, President Obama successfully solidified his historic progressive coalition from 2008 and held on to all the states he won that year with the exception of conservative-leaning Indiana and North Carolina. After the electoral disaster that Democrats suffered in 2010 at the congressional level, the party expanded its majority in the Senate with significant wins in Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, and even Indiana.

With his clear Electoral College and national popular vote majorities, President Obama has arguably created a genuine realignment at the national level that could continue to shape American politics for years to come. President Obama’s strong progressive majority—built on a multiracial, multiethnic, cross-class coalition in support of an activist government that promotes freedom, opportunity, and security for all—is real and growing, and it reflects the face and beliefs of the United States in the early part of the 21st century. The GOP must face the stark reality that its voter base is declining, and its ideology is too rigid to represent the changing face of today’s country.

This analysis, written by CAP Senior Fellows Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, provides a concise overview of the demographic breakdown of the election based on exit poll and election data available today and will be updated as more data is finalized.

Who voted?

Race. Voters in 2012 were 72 percent white and 28 percent people of color. The minority figure is an increase of 2 percentage points from the 2008 level of 26 percent, and 5 percentage points from the 2010 level of 23 percent. The increase since 2008, which was predicted in our “Path to 270” paper, is consistent with historical trends and observed increases in the minority share of eligible voters over the past four years.

Age. Young voters also defied skepticism about their likely levels of voter turnout. They comprised 19 percent of voters this year, up from 18 percent in President Obama’s historic campaign of 2008—and way up from 12 percent in 2010. Most of the turnout increases relative to 2008 appeared to be concentrated among the youngest members (18- to 24-year-olds) of the Millennial generation, who increased their share of voters from 10 percent to 11 percent. On the other end of the age distribution, seniors’ turnout was the same as in 2008: 16 percent of voters.

Ideology. Liberals were 25 percent of voters in 2012, up from 22 percent in 2008. Since 1992 the percent of liberals among presidential voters has varied in a narrow band between 20 percent and 22 percent, so the figure for this year is quite unusual. Conservatives, at 35 percent, were up 1 percentage point from the 2008 level but down a massive 7 percentage points since 2010.

How did they vote?

Race. President Obama lost the white vote in 2012 by a wider margin than he did in 2008—20 percentage points (59 percent to 39 percent), compared to 12 percentage points (55 percent to 43 percent), respectively. Overall, President Obama received 80 percent support from people of color in 2012, just as he did in 2008. His support among African Americans was almost as overwhelming this year (93 percent to 6 percent) as it was in 2008 (95 percent to 4 percent). And his support among Hispanics (71 percent to 27 percent) improved substantially from its 2008 level (67 percent to 31 percent).

Age. Young people ages 18 to 29 years old supported Democrats by a 23-point margin in the 2012 election, 60 percent to 37 percent. This is strong support, by far President Obama’s best performance among any age group, just as was the case in 2008, when the president performed even more strongly among these voters (66 percent to 32 percent).

Gender. President Obama carried women by 55 percent to 44 percent, while losing men by 52 percent to 45 percent. This is a larger gender gap than in 2008, when President Obama carried women by only slightly more (56 percent to 43 percent) while doing quite a bit better among men (actually carrying them, 49 percent to 48 percent).

Ideology. President Obama received less support in 2012 from all ideology groups, though the drop-offs were not particularly sharp in any group. He received 86 percent support from liberals (89 percent in 2008), 56 percent from moderates (60 percent in 2008), and 17 percent from conservatives (20 percent in 2008).

To read the full analysis, click here.

If you would like to speak to Ruy Teixeira or John Halpin, please contact Laura Pereyra at [email protected] or 202.741.6258.