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L'Actualité, Canada

Who Are the People that
Re-elected Obama?

By Pierre Martin

Translated By Cynthia Perez

8 November 2012

Edited by Kyrstie Lane


Canada - L'Actualité - Original Article (French)

An old anecdote that a colleague likes to tell is that of a French Socialist Party leader who, after having lost an important election by one single vote during a party convention, exclaimed, "If I find the person who made me lose, I'll make him pay for it." If we think about that for one second, it does not make any sense. Any of the 50 percent plus one could carry the blame. Thus, the day after an election where the margin of victory was as tight as it was yesterday, all sorts of analyses promising to expose the determining factor in Barack Obama's win can be heard. All this must be taken with a grain of salt, but the consultation of voting center exit polls allows us to begin to get an idea of what happened in the United States yesterday. Without claiming to have found THE reason for the victory of one or the defeat of the other, here are some useful observations from a poll by the Associated Press and a media consortium.

Obama won because of women. From 2008 to 2012, he went from winning women voters by 56 percent compared to his opponent’s 43 percent, to winning them by 55 percent compared to 44 percent. But among men, the percentages went from 49 for Obama versus 48 for his opponent to 45 versus 52. Throughout the campaign, the issues that primarily affect women were kept in the spotlight and the Obama team was always careful to give women a leading role in its public events. And that worked.

Obama won because of the ethnic vote (it seems like I have already heard that one somewhere). In 2008, non-Hispanic whites made up 74 percent of the electorate. Obama lost their vote 43 to 55 percent. In 2012, the defeat among this group was even clearer: 39 to 59 percent, but it can be noted that the group is dwindling because it fell to 72 percent of voters, with Latinos and Asians each gaining a point. It is also in these two groups that Obama made the greatest gains. His votes among African Americans went from 95 to 93 percent, but went from 67 to 71 percent and from 62 to 73 percent among Latinos and Asians respectively. With their very restrictive positions concerning immigration, it is known why Republicans lost some of the little support they had among Latinos. But what happened with Asians? That is a good question.

Obama won because of young people. Among young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, many of whom were voting for the first time, Obama was a hit in 2008, winning by 66 percent to 33 percent. He was cool. His "hope" poster was all the rage among the youth and he promised to put an end to a war that they did not want. In 2010, these same young people stayed silent during the mid-term elections. It was said that the Democrats would never be able to replicate the youth enthusiasm of 2008. Nonetheless, the loss of votes among this group was modest and its percentage of the electorate rose from 10 to 11 percent. Young people did not give up in 2012.

Obama won because of partisan polarization. Yesterday's polls show us that the parties have closed ranks. Party support breakdown reveals a rise in partisan polarization. This is illustrated by the fact that the number of people who identified with one party but supported an opposing party candidate went from 9 to 6 percent. The figures themselves reflect the wider phenomenon of electoral polarization ensuring that Obama would maintain the support of his partisans during the worst economic crisis that the country had faced since the Great Depression.

Barack Obama won thanks to the middle class. How many millions of times throughout the campaign did we hear references to the middle class, a code name for the unmentionable working class in the United States? In 2008, Barack Obama won among voters coming from households with less than $50,000 in annual income by 60 to 38 percent, with these electors representing 38 percent of the electorate. Meanwhile, among voters coming from households with annual incomes of over $50,000, the votes were more evenly split (49 percent - 49 percent). After four years of crisis, this part of the electorate that was the hardest hit by unemployment and income loss went up to 41 percent. This group could have been expected to pass harsh judgment on President Obama, who Republicans relentlessly blamed for their lot. They did not flinch. Yesterday, Democrats won this group by the same margin as in 2008, 60 to 38 percent, and lost votes coming from households with more than $50,000 by 45 to 53 percent. In the end, those hardest hit by the crisis were the ones to renew their trust in Barack Obama, while their more well-off compatriots with stock investments that doubled during the last four years opted to shift to the right.

Given the importance Republicans place on questions of religion and values, a bigger drop among practicing religious voters could have been expected, but that was not the case. In fact, Barack Obama's losses were rather similar in each group defined by religious identity or the intensity of religious practice.

Can we really say where Barack Obama's re-election votes came from? The response is too easy; it is all these categories. The margin of victory was so slim that any of these groups could claim responsibility for tipping the scale in Barack Obama's favor. In the next few posts, I will try to go beyond the identity of the groups and find out what their reasoning was while making their choice.



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