President Barack Obama won re-election supported by just 39 percent of older white voters. Even so, they are far from marginalized as a political force.
The BGOV Barometer shows that 2016 presidential candidates, especially Democrats, can’t afford to ignore those voters in large, competitive states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, where they still make up half the electorate, according to analysis by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The percentage of older whites, defined as 45 years old and above, who are eligible voters in three other large swing states, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, is close to the national average of 42 percent, data compiled by Frey show. Those percentages won’t change much before the 2016 election, he said.
“It really behooves the Democrats to hang on to what they’ve got,” said Frey. “The turnout rate for whites is much higher, so that just magnifies the importance of white men, and women, too.”
The seven states cited by Frey account for 121 electoral votes, 45 percent of the 270 needed to win the White House.
Republican officeholders say that their party can’t afford to rely so heavily on white votes, especially those of males.
“We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in August.
Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman who once led the House Republicans’ national campaign effort, used similar language to assess the lack of diversity among Republican voters in the recent general election.
“Instead of them curling up in the ball and asking, ‘Where did we lose conservative whites,’ we need to add people to the coalition,” Davis said on Nov. 6. “There are just not enough old white guys around.”
The percentage of older white eligible voters varies from 14 percent in the District of Columbia and 15 percent in Hawaii to 59 percent in Maine, according to Frey’s calculations.
Whites of all ages constituted 72 percent of voters in the 2012 election, the lowest level on record. As recently as 1980, white voters accounted for about 88 percent of the national vote. Data on the gender breakdown by age and race of the national vote isn’t yet available.
While “pressed and surly voters, particularly white voters, just don’t feel inclined to vote for Democrats,” Republicans are wise to try to broaden their support base, electoral analyst Ruy Teixeira said.
Non-white newborns in 2011 outnumbered white babies for the first time in U.S. history, according to U.S. Census data. Hispanic voters backed the president over his Republican rival Mitt Romney by a margin of 71 percent to 27 percent in CNN exit polls. In 2000, George W. Bush captured 44 percent of that vote.
Romney, in a Republican primary debate in January called for “self-deportation” of Hispanics, meaning they “decide that they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.”
Romney echoed that line in a Nov. 14 telephone call with campaign donors, telling them that Obama motivated voters with a variety of policy “gifts.”
“With regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group,” Romney said, according to The New York Times.
The Republicans “couldn’t do a worse job,” attracting Hispanic support, said Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-author of a 2002 book, “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which argued that long-range demographics favor left-of-center candidates.
Republicans already are trying to do better. Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban immigrant who was Secretary of Commerce under Bush, announced formation of a super political action committee to push for immigration reform and bolster his party’s standing among Hispanics.
The super-PAC, called Republicans for Immigration Reform, will seek to attract “all Republicans who believe in immigration reform and immigration,” said Gutierrez, who headed outreach to Hispanic voters for the Romney campaign. Gutierrez spoke on CNN’s State of the Union broadcast yesterday.
The white vote may become more receptive to Democrats as its oldest portion, members of the Silent Generation born from the mid-1920s to the early 1940s, die off and are replaced by early Baby Boomers, who tend to be more liberal, Teixeira said.
“Maybe by 2020 things will start to look a little different,” Teixeira said.