Demographics 2012

A changing America means the GOP will struggle to capture the black and Hispanic votes it needs to topple Obama.

Obama in Austin, Texas with its 35% Hispanic population
James Dwyer
On 27 June 2011 09:29

While it is still too early to tell what factors will decide the 2012 US election, many commentators are already beginning to predict the key issues for the campaigns. Unsurprisingly the economy is topping all lists.

Barack Obama is in a strange situation currently. He is still attempting to ride the crest of the wave which emerged after the death of Osama bin Laden, but that wave is crashing down quickly. A recent poll showed him losing to potential Republican candidate Mitt Romney by forty-nine to forty-six percent. The President cannot afford to be complacent.

George Bush Sr. was similarly popular in the spring of 1991, but in November 1992 he was crushed at the polls by Bill Clinton.

As much as the economy may be a decisive factor in the elections, President Obama may be helped by something which neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have much control over but is vital to elections, especially in America.

Demographics are something usually pored over by analysts and campaigners, but not often mentioned by or to the electorate. The 2012 election could swing on the impact of different demographics and, if so, understanding the changing layout of America will become something that is vitally important.

In 1988, white voters contributed to eighty-eight percent of the national vote. Whilst eighty-nine percent of black voters checked the box next to Michael Dukakis’s name, it was not enough to have a significant impact on the outcome because of the huge difference between white and black turnout.

In 2008, the white vote accounted for seventy-four percent, a fourteen percent decline in 20 years. John McCain won over half of the white vote, yet could not beat Barack Obama because he did not obtain enough support from black or Hispanic Americans. The electoral map in America is changing.

This is something that will benefit the Democrats and cause a headache for the Republicans. The GOP has traditionally attracted white voters, and even if they say they have changed, the party still struggles to shed that image.

If the trend continues, it will become an uphill struggle to enter the White House without significant support from black and Hispanic voters. President Obama won the Hispanic vote by thirty-six percent in 2008, and there is no suggestion that he can’t win by that margin again or potentially increase it.

The Hispanic vote in particular is now taking centre stage. Without winning a majority from Hispanics, it is hard to see how the Republicans can win in 2012. No Republican in the last eight elections has achieved more than forty-three percent of the Hispanic vote.

Key states such as New Mexico and Arizona have large numbers of Hispanics, and the numbers are increasing. These swing states are often critical in elections, and this factor adds another level to their importance.

The hope for the GOP lies in the economy. If things in America continue to stagnate or - as is being seen in some areas - get worse, Obama will begin to lose voters who are affected by the economic downturn, many of whom are black or Hispanic. A candidate such as Mitt Romney might just have enough charisma and solid policies to win the votes of black and Hispanic Americans.

The demographic change in America is becoming more noteworthy and it seems safe to say that it will have an even greater impact on future elections.

Whilst the 2012 election might ultimately come down to the state of the American economy, the demographic make-up of the US is a long-term political issue and one that both parties should take note of.

James Dwyer works for PoliticsHome on the news team. He writes for The Commentator in a personal capacity.

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