Nov 12 2012

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The Missed Story For ’12 – Voter Alienation

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When Voters Lose Faith....

 Shell-shocked Republicans and hopeful independents had more than a lost election looking them in the face on Wednesday morning. These voters also had to cope with a fresh and unnerving triumphalism by the professional left that proclaimed the end of “traditional” (and evidently oppressive) America.

Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post summed up this new narrative best.

“President Barack Obama did not just win reelection tonight. His victory signaled the irreversible triumph of a new, 21st-century America: multiracial, multi-ethnic, global in outlook and moving beyond centuries of racial, sexual, marital and religious tradition.

Obama…won reelection in good part because he not only embodied but spoke to that New America, as did the Democratic Party he leads. His victorious coalition spoke for and about him: a good share of the white vote (about 45 percent in Ohio, for example); 70 percent or so of the Latino vote across the country, according to experts; 96 percent of the African-American vote; and large proportions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders….The Republican Party, by contrast, has been reduced to a rump parliament of Caucasian traditionalism: white, married, church-going — to oversimplify only slightly.”

As with most things that originate with MSNBC contributors, this is preposterous hogwash. Indeed to get to Fineman’s progressive “shining city on a hill”, one must selective choose its data sets, which do not comport with the polling and results at large.

To understand this, look at a comparison of exit poll data from 2008 and 2012:

Year 12         ‘08       Net
% Voter Obama Romney Indy   % Voter Obama McCain   % Voter Obama Repub.
White 72 39 59 2 74 43 55 -2 -4 +4
Black 13 93 6 1 13 95 4 -0- -2 +2
Latino 10 71 27 2 9 67 31 +1 +4 -4
Asian 3 73 26 1 2 62 35 +1 +11 -7
Other 2 58 38 4 3 66 31  -1 -8 +7
Protestant 53 42 57 1 54 45 54 -1 -3 +3
Catholic 25 50 48 2 27 54 45 -2 -4 +3
Jewish 2 69 30 1 2 78 21 -0- -9 +9
Other 7 74 23 3 6 73 22 -1 +1 +1
None 12 70 26 4 12 75 23 -0- -5 +3


This data is not as tidy and incriminating as Fineman would hope.

True, the percentage of the white vote is down two points from ’08, while the Latino and Asian vote picked up a point each. Also true that the GOP bombed big with Latinos and Asians, losing four points among Latinos and 7 points among Asians, as compared to 2008.

But it wasn’t all bad for the GOP.

For all of Fineman’s rhetorical hopefulness of a “less white” America, the GOP was up 7 points among those who don’t identify themselves ethnically. And surprisingly, if only symbolically, with an African American on the ticket, the GOP did better with African Americans in ’12 than in ’08, thought in fairness it is not statistically significant.

From a religious perspective, it does appear, to Fineman’s apparent glee, that America is becoming less god-fearing as well, with the Protestant and Jewish vote each down a point, and the Catholic vote down two points from ’08.

Still the story here is that among the religious and non-religious, the GOP did better that President Obama. +3 among Protestants, +3 among Catholics, +9 among Jewish voters, +1 among those that say “neither,” and +3 among those that do not identify with any religion. POTUS lost support in all these categories, except “neither” where Democrats also won an additional point.

But in a way, this is quibbling on the margins, as is Fineman’s argument.

The biggest (and unreported) story of 2012 is about those who did not vote. Fineman and his ilk look at data comparisons between 2012 and 2008 without considering the different turnout for each year. And turnout in 2012 tanked.

If you only look at the 2008 election turnout – without regard (yet) for population growth – nearly 10 million fewer Americans showed up at the polls in 2012. The chart below shows the breakdown:


2008 2012 Net
White 97,284,190 87,981,748 – 9,302,442
Black 17,090,465 15,885,593  -1,204,872
Latino 11,831,861 12,219,687     +387,826
Asian   2,629,302   3,665,906 +1,036,604
Protestant 70.991,166 64,764,342 -6,226,824
Catholic 36,035,583 30,549,218 -5,486,365
Jewish   2,629,122   2,443,937    +185,185
Other   7,877,907   8,533,781    +665,874
None 15,775,815 14,663,624 -1,112,191


Statistically what we see here is that, adjusted for turnout, both white and African American voter participation is down from 2008. Over nine million whites and one million blacks did not go to the polls in ’12 who showed up in 08.

And for all the attention paid to the Latino vote, when adjusted for turnout, the increase was very modest. The story with the Latino vote remains how many (upwards of 50 percent) still do not participate. Only the Asian turnout was significant, effectively making up for the loss of African American participation from ’08.

From a religious perspective, significantly fewer Protestants and Catholics make up the electorate in 2012.  It is worth noting that Fineman’s much heralded secular voter actually declined from 2008, by over one million votes. On the plus side, the Jewish vote actually increased as did that of those who ascribe to religious beliefs other than those listed in the exit polls.

But here is the crucial flaw in Fineman’s critique; Fineman and the professional left have confused voter turnout with demography.

For Fineman’s posit to be valid, some nine million Americans who voted in 2008 need to vanish, not to mention the additional ten million Americans who became part of the Voting Age Population since 2008, and didn’t show up either.

Indeed, had voter participation increased in 2012 at half the rate it grew between 2000 and 2008, 143 million Americans would have voted in 2012. Instead, 122 million showed up; a 20 million person shortfall. That is 16 percent of the total number of Americans who showed up this year.

The inescapable conclusion is that what we see is not a new demography, but a transformation of politics from “Obama-nation” to “Alienation.”

In the most important election since 1860 or even 1932 – where debt, deficits, regulations, mandates, the very course of America for the future was a stake, with the clearest choice in decades, fewer Americans participated than in the dull an uneventful election of 1996.

Americans simply dropped out, tuned out or gave up.

That sense of alienation can also be seen in the growth of third parties, particularly the Libertarians.

The Libertarian Party has averaged 435,000 voters between ’00-08. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee this year won 1.1 million votes this year, nearly tripling that average turn out. Indeed, to give context to the Libertarian turnout, had those voters who chose Johnson and other fringe parties to the right sided with the GOP instead, Romney may very well have forced recounts in the four states – FL, VA, OH, CO – that were his path to victory.

So the emerging story of Election 2012 is not about the death of “traditional America” as Fineman and other pine away, but the entirely missed story – of the far more consequential and worrisome disillusionment of very large swaths of America that no longer see a connection between their day to day concerns and our national politics.

In an election of this consequence, the lack of interest and participation is a grim foreboding for the future.

Political parties, take note, or ignore at your peril.  This cohort seems ripe for a third party that connects to their concerns.

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