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Demographics + Economics = Obama

BU experts dissect president’s victory


In the end, it wasn’t so surprising.

Yes, some pundits predicted the fight of Barack Obama’s political life, and yes, a president governing amid persistent unemployment risks a pummeling at the polls. (FDR and Ronald Reagan were exceptions.) Yet Obama’s victory was foreseen by election eve handicappers who’d given him an edge in the battleground states that decided the contest.

The president won, says David Glick, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of political science, partly because of a building demographic wave that prompted GOP soul-searching: the burgeoning number of voters who lean Democratic, particularly Latinos.

“The Obama-Romney splits among blacks, Latinos, and Asians are really overwhelming,” says Glick. Exit polls showed the president winning 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and 73 percent of the Asian vote, groups whose numbers are mushrooming. Obama took 93 percent of the black vote.

“The real demographic story may be what happens with the Republicans,” Glick says. “It already appears that they are beginning an intraparty discussion of these issues. Whether the voices that say it’s impossible to win with an all-white coalition win out or not will likely shape a lot of politics in the upcoming years.”

Nor did the limping economy break for Mitt Romney, who tirelessly plugged his business experience. Glick and colleague Douglas Kriner, a CAS associate professor of political science, argue that the economy’s trend, rather than its current snapshot, mattered in the end.

“Unemployment is only one statistic,” says Kriner. “One of the more interesting statistics, to my mind, is Americans’ expectations for the future. Recent polls in this vein suggest that a good chunk of Americans, maybe a third, think the economy will be better in the next 12 months, while only a small percentage think it will get worse.” That optimism follows rebounds in job growth, financial markets, and housing since the worst of the recession, he says, and anyway, “a majority of Americans still blame Bush, not Obama, for the collapse.”

Election night 2012, Barack Obama election night rally

The crowd celebrates at Obama’s election night rally. Photo by by Kevin Gebhardt

Romney was also hobbled by an economic issue of his own making, notes Dino Christenson, a CAS assistant professor of political science: the Republican opposed Obama’s bailout of the auto industry, a deeply unpopular stance in the Midwest, which just happened to be the location of key battleground states like Ohio and Wisconsin. And while unemployment remains hauntingly high nationally, voters filter such news through a partisan prism, says Christenson, with Democrats “more likely to see the economy as making great strides of late.”

That partisanship likewise affected Republicans, says Glick, who saw polling data showing many Republicans buying debunked allegations that government statisticians monkeyed with unemployment data to make it look better for the president.

Still, Obama’s win, magnified by the mathematical workings of the Electoral College, was a squeaker in the popular vote. Christenson chalks that up to tactics, with candidates “getting better at polling and focusing their vast campaign resources,” but Kriner says the race’s photo finish says more about the nation at this moment in history.

“We are an increasingly polarized country along partisan lines. Only in the most extreme cases”—he cites the 2008 election, featuring a retiring and unpopular incumbent presiding over costly wars and a financial crisis—“does it seem possible to have a race that is decided by more than a couple of points.”

If that suggests that Obama will find a mandate elusive in the next four years, Kriner readily agrees. “Neither candidate has run on a very clear and precise program of specific reforms.”

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

49 Comments on Demographics + Economics = Obama

  • Peter on 11.09.2012 at 7:17 am

    Voting by all was way down. Voting by non-hyphen’s was way down. They stayed home. Like my sister said to me last week ” I’m just not going to vote for anyone”

    They played into the negative campaigning by the left, and listened to the left dominated media whose job is to protect Obama: Did not to vet him on issues, failing at all of his promises, Solyndragate,, Fast and Furious, Ben-gazi, divided the opposition by race ,gender, class warfare.

    Great. you can keep your government sponsored contraception. Once people like Warren are finished hammering the rich, we can probably run DC for another half a day.

    I can see we are headed nationally, to what we have here in MA: Entrenched one party rule.

    • Nathan on 11.09.2012 at 10:24 am

      Voter turnout was not low – step out of your bias and look at the facts

      Massachusetts had record high turnout

      Nationwide, recent historic turnout has been about 55% compared to 57% (estimated this year)

      • Peter on 11.09.2012 at 12:31 pm

        Nationally , the VEP turnout in 2008 was 62.3%. Almost 5% more than this year. 2004 was over 60. In this state the Senate race drew more voters. Nobody Kennedy gets a free ticket.

    • ME on 11.09.2012 at 11:23 am

      The strategy of the President’s reelection campaign and of those sponsored by the President, such as Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy in Massachusetts, was crystal clear: Go negative from the start, stay negative, don’t correct the falsehoods when they are revealed, and do not substantively address any national issue. President Obama was able to skirt discussion of unemployment, the impending fiscal cliff, the balance of trade out of whack, the role he has played in presenting an image of a weak United States, and his administration’s — and likely his own — role in the failure to protect Americans in Ben Ghazi before they were murdered. The facts in the Ben Ghazi incident have not been rooted out and covered by the mainstream media, because they are so damning of this President and came too close to the November elections

      Can you imagine how the print and television media would have covered this avoidable horror and the cover-up that followed, were the sitting President anyone but Mr. Obama? I can, and the patent biases go beyond the realm of “difference of opinion” to “failure to report.”

      • howard on 11.11.2012 at 10:26 pm

        9/11 is a good parallel. Was it blamed on Bush (successfully?)

    • Conor on 11.09.2012 at 1:50 pm


  • anonymous on 11.09.2012 at 8:13 am

    I think it is also worth mentioning that historically, at least since the 60s, the Republican party has been the party of power, of military power, economic power, religious/ideological power. And of course, since much further back since the 60s, that power structure has also included race and sex as a factor: i.e., the power structure has historically been composed of white men. There’s a lot of talk in the popular press about so-called soul searching for Republicans, but I don’t see how they can change their core platform without fundamentally becoming a different party. On every major issue, economics, human rights, military expansion, science, they were on the side of power, of major corporations and plutocratic elite, and people are informed enough to see through that (mostly, anyway). How can they move forward to seize the Senate or Presidency? They just have to do what they have been doing for years: make voting inaccessible, maintain a strict denial of science, and make government so unpopular and unworkable that people will say “anything’s better than this,” and elect a group of people who will dismantle government in favor of a corporatist state. That’s been the strategy for Republicans since Newt Gingrich took the House in the 90s, and it has worked surprisingly well.

    • Cyn Don on 11.09.2012 at 10:56 am

      You’re showing your ignorance on many levels. Check the records…in the 60s, segregation of the races was the party platform of the Democrats/liberals and has been since the early days of our country’s existence. Secondly, everyone wants to hate the wealthy but never in the history of man has a society functioned well without an upper class structure. The beauty of America is that we have created the idea of a middle class…never in existence before this country; but taking everything from the rich will simply create a two class system with the middle class dissolved…again, check world history. Thirdly (and I could go on), no country maintains (or ever has maintained) a weak military and avoids collapse. The world is full of power hungry maniacs and they are in the wings just waiting to overrun this country. It’s all in the world history books and as most educated people know, history ALWAYS repeats.

      • anonymous on 11.09.2012 at 12:23 pm

        Those straw man arguments are pretty transparent. First, to have a strong military isn’t the same as military expansionism and neocolonialism, nor is it the same as having a military budget equal to the combined military budget of the entire rest of the world. Second, while racism wasn’t unique to Republicans in the 60s, it was overwhelmingly found in that party, hence LBJ’s comments when signing the Civil Rights Act: “We just delivered the South to the Republicans for a long time…”
        Finally, the idea that we need people to live in decadent luxury while we have an infant mortality rate higher than Cuba’s is ludicrous. Plenty of societies do and have functioned quite well without a plutocracy. I think you may have learned your history at Falwell’s Liberty University.

  • Anne on 11.09.2012 at 8:36 am

    But the GOP is *not* an “all-white” coalition. I myself voted for Romney and I’m bi-racial. My friends who also voted Republican include a Mexican-American and an East Indian American. While there might be a strong correlation between race and voting tendencies, that masks the broader, actual issue: the difference in cultural values between social groups is widening.

    Four years ago, a girl in one of my classes once complained that it was unfair to live in a society that rewards people who work hard. I laughed, but now I realize her mindset is becoming the foundation of my community’s ideology. Core values like emphasizing a hard work ethic and independence are being eschewed in favor of government support: federal funding for college, health care, daycare, transportation, housing, etc. Voters conditioned to government support and the idea it’s “unfair” for some people to have more money than others, have no choice but to support a candidate that promises to keep the money flowing through programs like welfare, foodstamps, WIC, and more. And it’s no surprise that politicians have exploited the black, Latino, and immigrant communities for *years*, keeping them dependent on these types of services in exchange for their votes. In my opinion, they are no different from the crack dealers I used to see standing at the corner of the street when I lived in the Bronx. It infuriates me to see political ‘scientists’ try to explain the elections based on racial groups without even touching on what really matters: the cultural environment.

    • Matt on 11.09.2012 at 11:59 am

      Anne, well put. Politicians have been exploiting dependencies of certain groups on government. Also, I am all for limited government – for protecting our nation and for inter-state commerce – but I find it hard to see how government will be successful in picking winners and losers and using tax payers’ money to invest in certain industries vs. others, unless you just want to get votes. Government is not good at this, it distorts the market, and often stifles innovation. Let people do the work, come up with different ideas, and compete – let the best idea and technology win. Free market should work, as long as some (minimal, I hope) laws and regulations exist that ensure fairness and leveled playing field. GOP should focus on how to encourage innovators, reward success, and “create” wealth. All the rest are distractions.

      • Anne on 11.10.2012 at 2:07 pm

        I completely agree, Matt. That’s the basic economic and ideological foundation of our country, which everyone is forgetting about. If we wanted to follow a big government, quasi-socialist model, we’d be like anywhere else in the world–and see how great that’s been turning out for places like Spain and Greece. People are thinking short term, and the Democrat party appeals to that desire for handouts and ‘free’ rides. I’m sorry, but I don’t want me or my community to rely on cradle to the grave government care, selling out their votes to the next elitist clown politician who promises the most paybacks. But unfortunately, Republicans have been villainized ane libertarians are mocked, so if you support anyone other than a democrat, you must hate humanity. It’s ridiculous.

        • Anonymous1 on 11.11.2012 at 12:28 am

          Then again, Canada, Germany, and Scandinavia have turned out well. I think it is not so much what a country does as how it is managed.

  • carl on 11.09.2012 at 8:39 am

    Basically, Americans vote republican and immigrants democrat. How sad, and hob blind some liberals who want to give this great country away and who think that it is OK to be number 2 and at the expenses of foreign policies are. Also, stop blaming Bush already. Obama had four years and things got worse, not better.

    • SigChi on 11.09.2012 at 9:29 am

      Romney 2016!

      • No Thanks on 11.09.2012 at 10:17 am

        Not happening according to Mrs. R. And even if it did happen, you better hope and pray with all your might that the opponent doesn’t end up to be Hillary. His loss would be embarrassing.

    • Jason on 11.09.2012 at 9:35 am

      You sir, are grossly typecasting.

    • Jason on 11.09.2012 at 9:38 am

      Perhaps you’ve forgotten that this nation is built by immigrants. Or maybe you believe that there are 59 million non-americans somehow voting in an election.

    • Anonymous on 11.09.2012 at 9:40 am

      America is a country of immigrants, and a country that comes from immigration. Even if your family has been here for generations, chances are that somewhere down the line your family immigrated here as well – would that make your family un-American? Of course not.

      • Sheppard on 11.09.2012 at 9:13 pm

        All nations began as immigrant countries. I don’t understand what makes the United States unable to criticize mass immigration from the 3rd world.
        Today, we have very strict immigration laws that only admit people with essential skills. This is a good thing, because it enforces the notion that we are a meritocracy. We are not like the nanny states in Europe that accept anyone regardless of education or criminal history and the hand over large amounts of money to them, but I fear we may be approaching a similar state.
        The Dream Act, which claims to “provide a clear path to citizenship” for illegals, is nothing more than an amnesty grant for people who broke the law. The act has been rejected by congress twice, and only passed by executive order by the president himself. I personally see this as an irresponsible power-grab by the democrats in order to secure support for their party at the expense of other immigrants who go through the proper legal channels for citizenship.

    • k on 11.09.2012 at 1:29 pm

      I am a American and I voted for Obama and did alot of people I know who are American.

  • SigChi on 11.09.2012 at 8:45 am

    Sig Chi for Romney 2016!

  • J on 11.09.2012 at 8:47 am

    I think it’s a little absurd that one state carries the weighting of 20.37% to win the electoral college (especially because this state tends to always favor the same party election after election)

    • Allison on 11.09.2012 at 2:25 pm

      if you knew anything about the electoral college, you would know that it is based on population of that state, which is why California has more electoral votes than Wyoming.

    • Steve on 11.09.2012 at 4:11 pm

      Agree with Alison. California has 37m people and 55 electoral votes. Because every state (and DC) gets at least 3 electoral votes – the system is actually quite biased in favor of small states. Romney’s 12 smallest states (AK, MT, ND, SD, WY, ID, NE, WV, AR, KS, MS and UT) only have 20m people and yet they provided him 51 electoral votes.

  • Barbara on 11.09.2012 at 8:56 am

    I think the race is close because in these times, candidates have a lot more ways to get to and influence a voter. As a result, the voter ends up with information against and for both candidates — true or false — and is therefore undecided. This state of undecidedness means that essentially the voter votes by flipping a coin. And this explains the very close race.

  • Jason on 11.09.2012 at 9:34 am

    @ Carl: If a recent immigrant has the right to vote, then that person is an American… just as American as you. What you are saying makes no sense.

  • Judy on 11.09.2012 at 9:43 am

    “Government” built the infrastructure that supports our growth as a nation: the highway system, electronic communication (Internet), the military. Our investment in scientific research fuels growth, e.g., the Nobel Prize in 1936 to Carl David Anderson for discovering the positron (who cares about these particles, right?) led to the development of the PET (positron emission tomograhy) scan medical diagnostic tool. Our citizens pay taxes to support their retirement (social security), healthcare (medicare tax). And recent (and not so recent) examples of corporate greed reinforce the need for government regulation. The 1980’s Savings and Loan crisis, Enron, AIG, the list goes on. I’m sorry, government bashing just doesn’t cut it.

  • Bill on 11.09.2012 at 10:30 am

    The government’s role should be able to provide the least amount of regulation in order to allow a free-market system. They also need to provide infrastructure the private sector cannot (highways, defense system, etc.)

    Entitlements, and the young demographic who think they are entitled to government services and programs, who don’t want to be held accountable for personal responsibility, will defeat this country.

    • Andrew on 11.09.2012 at 10:20 pm

      This has got to be one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever read. Poor people, as a rule, are not poor because they are somehow slackers, they’re poor because capitalism is unjust. Enjoy this quote from Noam Chomsky (MIT):

      “Throughout history, Adam Smith observed, we find the workings of “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind”: ‘All for ourselves, and nothing for other People.’ He had few illusions about the consequences. The invisible hand, he wrote, destroys the possibility of a decent human existence ‘unless government takes pains to prevent’ this outcome, as must be assured in ‘every improved and civilized society.’ It destroys community, the environment, and human values generally—and even the masters themselves, which is why the business classes have regularly called for state intervention to protect them from market forces.”

    • NM on 11.10.2012 at 3:15 pm

      Funny, Bill, but I think it’s people over ~65 who are ENTITLED to Social Security and Medicare. I’m always amused when people say young people are the ones who feel entitled, but it’s the nation’s retired people who are (in my opinion rightly) the recipients of social programs. We all pay into them. They paid into them.

      If I’m misunderstanding you, and you think that my not paying income tax counts as an entitlement, let me explain to you the lack of ‘personal responsibility’ in my life:
      I’m 24 and a full time student in a graduate program. I know, I know, I’m money-mongering. Us public health professionals are almost as bad as teachers in our self-centeredness and greediness.
      I work two part time jobs totaling about 30 hours a week. I pay my rent and pay my bills. I do get about a hundred dollars a month from the government in the form of SNAP benefits. Otherwise, I’m honestly not sure how I would eat. Boston is ridiculously expensive. I’m going to make a total of ~ $17k this year. I won’t be paying income tax. This small amount of help will get me through school so I can start a profession in the public sector working to promote public health.

      And you have the audacity to say that young people will defeat this country. If you think more people should be accountable for personal responsibility, how about the people who bought houses they couldn’t afford, bought gas-guzzling cars after gas prices were shooting up, and the people on Wall Street who crashed our economy because of a lack of oversight. I don’t think they were the young generation. They’re the irresponsible ones.

  • Katarina McClellan on 11.09.2012 at 10:46 am

    Romney lost because in today’s society it’s easier for a handout than going to work. This is a disaster for America & it will soon be apparent enough to even those that are foolish enough to believe that communism – because that’s what Obama is selling & that’s what you voted for – will work. Sad that educational institutions no longer teach history but propoganda. Good luck finding work, paying your school loans (because your vig is high), paying bills, trying to get a doctor and most of all good luck with your diminished freedoms. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstrem. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children’s children what ot was once like in the United States where men were free.” How many reading this know who said this without Googling it? Sad indeed.

    • Anonymous on 11.09.2012 at 12:45 pm

      I think someone spiked your kool-aid

    • Reality Check on 11.11.2012 at 10:31 pm

      You are so utterly wrong that I almost don’t feel like wasting my time replying, but for the sake of argument I’ll waste a few minutes.

      1) Obama’s solutions are anything but communism. Central planning has never been an economic possibility in the US, and it remains impossible today. If anything, Obama’s healthcare overhaul was a handout to the private sector, and simply placing some restrictions on policies hardly amounts to a “government takeover” of our health sector. The Heritage Foundation proposed “Obamacare” in the 1990s… read your history. Obama is hardly communist.

      2) The economy is in better shape now than it has been in the past 4 years. The President’s resistance to complete austerity has allowed the US to weather the storm and return to economic growth far faster than our European counterparts who slashed budgets (following the GOP’s plan). If you take a look at the current mess in Europe, nobody is predicting a turnaround in the next few years. Current budget forecasts for US puts us at 3.0+ growth by 2014. Not even Germany will achieve that. This insistance on balanced-budget purity at the expense of all else is at best ignorant and at worst cataclysmic.

      3) Handouts are not easier to live on today than they’ve been in the past. Obama has extended temporary unemployment insurance benefits because people will literally start starving without the benefits, something that any 1st world nation should never allow. The US isn’t Spain; people aren’t laying around not working because they make more money from the gov. This is pure ignorance, and when I hear this argument I detect a fair amount of thinly-veiled racism.

      In conclusion, your party and ideology is a dying breed. Your party is increasingly irrelevant and will slowly tear itself apart unless you embrace reality. The fact that the GOP couldn’t even retake the senate or the presidency this past election speaks volumes about the social and demographic transitions underway in America. News flash: you are on the wrong side of it. Progress marches on, and it leaves the ignorant behind. Educate yourself with something besides fox news or talk radio and you’ll start to understand what I mean.

  • Danny on 11.09.2012 at 10:53 am

    I would just like to highlight how badly this article and media is lagging behind the significance of Obama’s successes. This is not about race. What are Asians? Americans! What are Blacks? Americans! What are Latinos? Americans! Obama’s election and re-election represents the breaking of racial barriers and the beginning of a post-racial society. As Republicans analyze their failings they would be doing themselves a disfavor to focus on racial demographics, and should look at issues as affect Americans as a whole (and I hesitate to give advice to a party that denies people human rights and health care). This is a nation of immigrants, but this no longer unique in today’s world. The issues that face minorities are issues that should be concern all Americans, and issues that face America are also concerns all over the world. We need to stop dividing people, and start working together.

    • Sheppard on 11.09.2012 at 9:21 pm

      Tell me. Why is your “post-racial” society only achievable at the expense of white people?
      If your end goal is to destroy all ideas of race, there are plenty of people of all races who would vehemently take issue to that.

  • tricia on 11.09.2012 at 10:53 am

    Or, maybe Obama won because a majority of American citizens think he is doing a good job. Also, maybe it’s just possible that a majority of American citizens shuddered at the thought of what would happen if people were elected who think that things like “legitimate rape” are legitmate issues. Also, it’s possible that a majority of American citizens thought Romney didn’t present a clear plan and worried about a candidate who wouldn’t release his tax returns. I know to some these alternate theories are left wing nonsense. However, the data would suggest otherwise.

  • Anonymous on 11.09.2012 at 12:44 pm

    I am very pleased with the results of this election, both nationally and in many of the state races and ballot questions. America is pushing forward on all fronts.

  • Stephen on 11.09.2012 at 1:12 pm

    I can’t believe we are scared to talk about racism and prejudice. Does anyone think that Obama got 93% of the black vote because blacks agree with all of his views and decisions? They simply got the urge to vote for a guy of the same skin color. With many connections and statistical correlations suggesting that minorities are the least educated, it makes sense for either party to suggest a minority candidate. It’s all about race. We need another 100 years of interracial sex before we aren’t racist… Even then we’ll have traces of it. It’s all sad.

    • Anonymous on 11.09.2012 at 1:38 pm

      Did Kerry get 90% of the black vote because he’s black? Did Clinton?

      Hint: Kerry and Clinton are not black

      • Sheppard on 11.09.2012 at 9:23 pm

        If 95% of whites voted for Romney, how long would it take for anyone to realize that they only voted for him because of his race?

        • Anonymous on 11.11.2012 at 2:41 pm

          You’re missing the point. I checked as far back as Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, and every democratic presidential candidate (Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama) has received about 90% of the black vote. It’s clearly not the case that Obama won the black vote because he’s black, but rather he won the black vote because he’s a Democrat.

  • Immigrant on 11.09.2012 at 1:37 pm

    Haha, I love all this slamming of immigrants. Pulling the ladder up with you I see?

    • Sheppard on 11.09.2012 at 9:27 pm

      Affirmative Action policies are already in place. They have been in place for close to 30 years, and they benefit blacks and hispanics at the expense of whites and asians.

      How is this not a racist policy?

      Being racist against groups of people that happen to achieve higher than others is no ethical path to a diverse nation, if that is your goal. All it results in is creating a population of people who acquire job or school positions that they -would- be rejected for -if- they were white or asian.

  • Anne on 11.10.2012 at 2:17 pm

    I need someone to clear this rationale up for me: why should we believe that the people in government are any less capable of greed and exploitation than people in the private sector? People are people, and they have egos and faults and personal agenda like anyone else. The only difference is that government can pass laws to make tueir shenanigans legal, and they can use police and military force to impose those laws. So tell me why I should feel safer and pleased with a big government rather than free enterprise? Crooks on wall street hurt people, sure, but what about the mass murders and civil rights violations done under powerful governments led by Hitler, Mao, Chavez, Hussein, Stalin, etc? Tell me which one is worse.

    • Anonymous1 on 11.11.2012 at 12:37 am

      I somehow don’t think dictators like the ones mentioned will appear in this country, and unlike many businesses, the lawmakers are elected and laws can be repealed.

      • Sheppard on 11.11.2012 at 2:57 pm

        Every four years it always seems like we’re given the choice to pick the lesser of two evils.
        Is that really what democracy should be? Bipartisanship with no alternative?

      • Anne on 11.13.2012 at 10:43 am

        But you can’t take it for granted that dictators and other unethical parties wouldn’t appear here in the US, that’s the kind of thinking that allows for such governments to come into place. Hitler, for example, preyed off of people’s frustrations and he took small steps at a time to implement his plan so no one ever had a full picture of what that monster was doing. When he started his campaign for genocide, it began with small changes–people being grouped together, asked to where certain markers, then they were relocated, then relocated again, then eventually, they would just disappear. By then, who had any power to try and stop this from the inside? Granted, that’s a really terrible and extreme example, but it does demonstrate a need for people to always be aware and wary when dealing with governments and people in power. No one ever imagines things snowballing into terrible situations until it does.

  • Terrie Laser on 06.03.2015 at 12:29 pm

    You said this really well!|

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