Only one "first time"
Much is made of the Hispanic community being the fastest growing ethnic demographic group in the United States, which it is. The truth though is that despite a lot of anxiety by those, mostly on the right, it is doubtful that Hispanics will continue to grow at the rate they now are for much longer and probably a leveling off of population growth has already started. There are many reasons for this but the primary reason is that despite its many problems the economy of Mexico is growing and the population growth is slowing. These two simple realities will make the migration, legal and illegal of Mexicans to the United States begin to taper off. This is also true for nearly every other Latin American country.
So despite all the concentration about the Hispanic community as a voting block by political analyst, the fact remains that the single largest minority in US political calculations are blacks. Never have more Hispanics voted for President than African Americans and it is doubtful that Hispanics will in this decade though they could equal Blacks at some point in electoral size.
The difference is the almost monolithic voting pattern of African American's for Democratic candidates. The Hispanic vote can fluctuate between the parties, though always favoring the Democrats, blacks unlike any other demographic in American politics vote Democrat and this is important in the upcoming election in a way few people may realize because as I said almost all blacks vote Democrat- but not all.
Let me first give you a bit of recent history on the black vote, when I say recent I refer to the last six Presidential elections beginning in 1988 but for the time being we will leave out 2008 which was obviously not a normal election regarding the African American vote. All these figures can be found here.
Year % of vote Dem. Rep. Other
1988 10 89 11 -
1992 8 83 10 7
1996 10 84 12 4
2000 10 90 9 1
2004 11 88 11 -
Average 9.8 86.8 10.8 2.4
A few thoughts on these numbers. In normal election years the African American community accounts for a pretty consistent 10% of the vote. To give you an idea of what this means the year with the largest percentage of Hispanic vote was 2008 and it was 9%.
You will also notice that about 11% of blacks consistently vote Republican. Interesting to note that in the Perot elections of 92 and 96 it appears that Perot took votes from the Democrat (Clinton) rather than the Republicans in the black community. This either means that some blacks had a severe dislike for Clinton but could not vote for a Republican (doubtful) or their is a block of African American voters that may vote Democrat for other reasons but are fiscal conservatives and jumped on the Perot band wagon. In fact it is interesting to note that in those two elections, 1992 and 1996, seventeen and sixteen percent respectively of blacks did not vote for the Democrat.
But back to the historical turn out. I would say, based on these historical election results, that a normal election (without strong third party candidate) would look something like this for the black vote:
% of vote Dem. Rep.
Normal 10% 89% 11%
And then there was 2008:
2008 13% 95% 4%
Several points are obvious, not only was 2008 a record turn out for African Americans where they constituted 13% of the electorate, it was also a record vote for the Democratic candidate and the lowest voting percentage for the Republican candidate.
Although nearly everyone recognized at the time that there was a record turn out of black voters for Obama, few have really grasped the significance of it for this next election, after all there is only one "first time".
To show how big a shift from "normal" 2008 was, the difference between the black normal turn out and the "Obama effect" would be as much as an additional 3.9 million black voters and one would suspect that nearly all these additional African American votes went to Obama. I doubt many African Americans went to the trouble of registering and then voted for McCain.
There is no way to know if all these additional votes are the reason that the percentage of blacks who typically vote Republican was so small.In other words did the additional black voters simply swamp percentage wise the black vote or did a large number of black Republicans switch to vote for Obama. I suspect that it is a combination of the two, many black Republicans voted for Obama and since so many more blacks voted the percentages were skewed. But just based on the percentages as many as a million "usual" black Republican votes switched. Also remember that every black Republican who switched and voted for Obama is the equivalent of two votes, a new vote for Obama and one less for McCain.
I would wager that most black Republicans who voted for Obama in 2008, for whatever reason, are not likely to do so in 2012. To be an African American Republican in this day you must have some pretty strong convictions . While voting for the "first black" president may be a strong enough reason to put aside your political beliefs once, given Obama's now known radicalism I seriously doubt that many Republicans of any color will vote for Obama this time. Obama's most well known black Republican supporter Collin Powell has already said he has no plans to endorse him or say whether he will even vote for him.
Even taking the most generous view of the black turn out, in and of itself the black vote did not win Obama the election though it could have been critical in key states such North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. Perhaps even more important now, four years later, states that were not so close in 2008 are now becoming swing states, where a change in black turn out could also mean the difference. States like Michigan, Pennsylvania,possibly even New Jersey could be in play and a diminished black turn out could make the difference.
To show how small margins can make a big difference, consider three states that were very close in 2008, two went for Obama North Carolina by .03%, Indiana by .09% and one went for McCain, Missouri by .01%. For many reasons it is doubtful that Obama can win any of these razor thin states this time, but without a strong black turn out and crossover it is virtually impossible. North Carolina and Indiana won't cost Obama the election but they would have insured his win.
In 2008 nearly every state the black vote exceeded their proportion of the population. For example in Pennsylvania which very much could be in play this year, African Americans make up 9% of the population but in 2008 they made up 13% of the vote. And that vote went 95% for Obama, in 2004 Kerry received 83% of the black vote in Pennsylvania. I do not believe that Obama will fall to the low 80's in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the black community, but it goes to show that there was and is pockets of black voters that vote Republican. In 2004 17% of black voters voted for Bush in Pennsylvania and 11% did so nationally. In a close contest in state like Pennsylvania, black turnout and loyalty to Obama could be the key.
So the question is will the African American community turn out in the unprecedented numbers that they did in 2008 again in 2012? Will black Republicans, knowing what they know now, vote for Obama again? I think the answer to both questions is no. I believe the black turnout will be down to its normal 10%, not just because of less enthusiasm but because of the other reason that the percentage of blacks voting in 2008 was so high.
The other way that a group such as blacks can have a higher electoral percentage is if another group has a lower than normal turn out, which is exactly what happened in 2008. For the first time since 1980 Republicans made up less than 35% of the voters. In fact Republicans turned out in record low numbers for McCain-32%. In 2004 the electorate was 37% Democrat and 37% Republican, in 2008 it was 39% Democrat and 32% Republican, that is a huge change in turn out. Does anyone seriously believe that Republicans are not going to turn out in 2012?
In 2012 Republicans will show up to the polls in record numbers which will put states that were not in play in 2008 into play, at that point as I have pointed out what the black community does will become critical in several states. If they turn out and vote as they did in 2008, then perhaps they can help Obama hold onto some of the "new" swing states, if not then several very well could flip. The reason for this is simple, who has replaced these voters in Obama's camp? What group of voters have switched and are now supporting Obama that were not before?
The answer is there are not any, Obama has not strengthened his support, he has weakened it...across the board. Every key demographic that Obama needs to win in order to be reelected is down from his 2008 level of support.
If Obama can not generate the kind of enthusiasm in African Americans as he did in 2008, he will have a hard time holding onto states he must carry to win. And these are is his most ardent supporters, what about all the other "special interest" groups and demographics that made up his winning 2008 coalition? Across the board, whether Hispanics or women or white Democrats, his approval is down compared to his electoral turn out. If this lack of enthusiasm simply results in lower turn out, Obama will loose, if it means switched votes it will be a landslide.
The simple fact is that Republican and Republican leaning Independents will show up in unprecedented numbers and there is nothing that Obama or the media can do to stop that, though they will try. Unless Obama can match that intensity with a greater turn out of his base than he did in 2008. game over.
Like everything else in life, in politics you only get one "first time".