The Reality of 2012 Voter Turnout: The White Voter

The largest divergence among conservative and liberal polling critics this election is the debate over who will actually show up at the voting booth this November. Differences between the amounts of Democrats versus Republicans included in the poll are frequent. But embedded in each of these assumptions are questions on the racial make-up and how that varies from election to election.  Democrats consistently talk about the “coalition of the ascendant” where the fastest growing segments of the population are minorities. As such they make up an ever-increasing segment of the voting population but also vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats.  With a shrinking white population and a growing minority population Democrats argue demography as destiny and count on political majorities for the coming generation. That may be true if everything in life moves in a straight line (it doesn’t) but is that true today?

This is the bone of contention between the competing Presidential campaigns and critics of today’s polls.  Democrats want to argue the steep increase in minority percentage of the voting electorate from 2008 election was a fundamental shift in the electorate whereas Republicans want to argue the steep increases were a one-off bounce. Both agree on the general direction of the trend.  Neither agree how severe that trend will be in 2012. This disagreement is the basis for Democrat over-confidence and lopsided polling today in an election where the two candidates are most likely within 1-2% of one another.

What’s missing in all this analysis is who did not show up in the 2008 election: White voters. Looking back at those results, every voter turnout rate by race (relative to eligible population) was up versus 2004 except the white vote according to Pew Research (April 30, 2009). Blacks were up +4.9%, Hispanics were up +2.7%, Asians were up +2.4%.  But the percentage of White voters who showed up at the polls relative to who was eligible dropped -1.1% (Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, May 2010).  This has nothing to do with minorities making up more or less of the electorate.  This is simply saying from 2004 to 2008 White voter registration (which actually dropped 104k) and actual turnout of White voters (which increased 500k) did not keep up with voting age White population increases.

Within this drop of White voter turnout, over 3x as many men as women comprised those voters staying home in the election. This happened for any number of reasons ranging from a disinterested national party to a disorganized Presidential campaign to a demoralized voting block–all are true. But the bottom line is one of the advantages Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008 was that a meaningful percentage of white voters simply stayed home in 2008.  Side note: for anyone who wants to pin the depressed turnout on racism, wouldn’t the opposite have occurred in 2008 if racism really were a motivating factor in the white turnout?

Where this trips up the Obama campaign.

In 2008 Democrats achieved incredible levels of voter registration and turnout of this “coalition of the ascendent” such that Blacks, Hispanics and Asians made up 24% of the voting electorate — all historic highs.  Bolstering the appearance of Democrat advantage are countless media stories reporting on Mitt Romney’s struggle appealing to minority groups. Little attention is paid to Barack Obama’s (and Democrat candidates before him) difficulty appealing to White voters who made up 74% of the electorate. Such historic minority levels for the composition of the electorate are predicated on a demoralized and ineligible (meaning unregistered) white population much like in 2008, as demonstrated above.

If John McCain achieved a white voter turnout rate equal to George Bush in 2004, that would have meant 1.7 million more White votes.  While all of these votes would not have gone to McCain (nor were they all in battleground states), a super-majority of these voters likely would have voted Republican considering the make-up of the missing voter (white male — Obama’s worst demographic) and the motivated nature of the Obama voter in 2008 (i.e. if they were Obama supporters, only a scant few percent would have stayed home). Those missing votes would have been more than enough to flip the results in any of North Carolina (14k), Indiana (28.5k,), Nevada (121k), Iowa (146k), Colorado (195k), Virginia (234k), Florida (237k) or  Ohio (260k) where Obama’s victory margin (in parentheses) is based on a 43% vote share of a decreased turnout.

Today Barack Obama receives approximately 40% of the White vote in polls but often dips below this level especially when polls fail to massively over-sample Democrats. The President is also facing an increasingly enthusiastic bloc of White voters motivated to vote against him (this shows up in every survey) based on his poor record in office. Additionally, Republicans have aggressively targeted the above mentioned states with voter registration efforts reversing or seriously muting the registration advantage Obama enjoyed in 2008. Net gains for Republicans voter registrations in Nevada (53k), Iowa (140k), Colorado (91k) and Florida (240k) all speak to a very different and Republican electorate in those states. On top of registration, voter contacts from the Romney campaign surpassed 26 million eligible voters across the battleground states to date.  This is as much as 10-15x as much as the McCain 2008 campaign. This does not dismiss the aggressive and active Obama re-election effort but it simply points out that compared to 2008 he is no longer battling an unarmed opponent.

All of this is to say when David Axelrod or similar Obama campaign talking heads argue aggressively for polls with a racial composition at meaningfully greater minority levels than the 2008 historic turnout, there is another side of that coin and it works heavily against the turnout models of both the Obama campaign and of the vast majority of polls being published today.

Addendum: Please see this clarification regarding the White vote potential impact on 2008 and 2012. John McCain would not have won in 2008 if the White vote had shown up in 2008 as they did in 2004. But a motivated White vote makes erasing Obama’s leads in the above mentioned states far easier than people are being led to believe.

9 Comments

  1. Brian d. Gray
    Posted September 29, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink | Reply

    In 2004 there were 197,,005,000 eligible voting age adults of which 148,158,000 were non hispanic whites ,111,318,000 of the latter were registered of which 99,567,000 voted for a % of 89.4. In 2008 there were 206,072,000 eligible to vote of that 151,321,000 were non hispanic whites ,of that 111,215,000 were registered ,of that 100,042,000 voted for a % of 90.0. You’ll notice that even though the number of eligible adults from 2004 to 2008 increased at 9,000,000 the non-hispanic white portion only increased by 3,000,000 . The total number of registered voters increased by 4,000,000 though to be fair there was a minus of 100,000 non hispanic whites which means the non white portion of RV electorate increased by over 4,000,000. The total votes in 2004 was 125,736,000 compared to 2008 of 131,144,000. In 2004 there was a 26,000,000 vote difference between the Non hispanic whites and the total votes for that year whereas in 2008 there was 31,000,000 difference.

    Now one can maybe point to registration being down for whites between 2004 & 2008 but in that same time frame twice as many non whites were added to the eligible voting adults list as per whites furthermore it’s very,very hard to enhance on either the 2004 & 2008 non hispanic white voting % of around 90%. One then has to look at the fact that even if white increase their registration efforts they are being plummeled by the sheer onslaught of the non white demographic, i.e. it increased twice as much from 2004 to 2008,6,000,000 versus 3,000,000. All data is from the US Census Bureau.

    • Posted September 29, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink | Reply

      Brian , your #s are correct but it is your conclusion I take issue with. As it says in my piece, no one disagrees with the direction of the trend. The difference of opinion is how severe an impact that trend will have in 2012.

      You accurately point out that between 2004 and 2008 the changes in eligible voters for whites and non-whites was +3,000,000 and +6,000,000 respectively, but trends don’t always move in a straight line. And the bad economic times in the US has meaningfully changed migration trends and led many to leave the US, most notably non-Whites. The number of eligible non-White voters in the US should still be up over the 2008 figure, but it will be muted from the 6 million 4-year increase in 2008 for a a number of reasons, only one of which I outlined in the prior sentence.

      At the same time the disparity between 2008 steep increases in registration and participation of non-Whites is contrasted by the drop in registration and reduced participation rate among Whites. The latter point being the entire thrust of my piece.

      In 2012, we are finding enthusiasm rates which typically correlates with subsequent participation rates falling for all non-White voter groups (including Blacks) back towards their historic levels. This contrasts with both registration and enthusiasm among the White voting group which is substantially up in both categories.

      A final point, when we are talking about the largest voter demographic which comprises ~74% of the voters in an election, small changes in the percentage of participation, registration, etc have a sizable impact. So a drop in participation of registered White voters of 0.6 or 0.5% is ~800k thousand votes, in itself offsetting 1/3 of the steep increases for Blacks or Hispanics. That is a substantial amount of ground made up by having people who are already registered and previously voted to simply show up. This is before you register new people and attempt to increase enthusiasm and subsequent participation rates.

      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to explain yourself and make good points even if I disagree with your conclusions.

  2. Robespierre
    Posted September 29, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink | Reply

    At a minimum, 40% of White voters will vote for the President. He will be re-elected.

    • tpaine1
      Posted September 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink | Reply

      So 60% of the largest portion of the electorate vote against you and that guarantees your election?? Logic please?

      • Brian d. Gray
        Posted September 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

        It’s simple math..let’s say 25% of the electorate is non-white and per historical standards a Democrat carries 80% of the demographic that equals 20. You then the other 75% being white which if A Democrat carries 40%+ of that demographic that equals 30+ . See it’s just simple math!!!

      • tpaine1
        Posted April 7, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Except, of course, none of the “prerequisites” are true. Democrats do carry a large majority of minority votes, but nothing NEAR 80% as a total. Nor do they make up 25% of the vote – whites are STILL 72% of the total and Democrats are losing that vote incrementally every election.

      • tpaine1
        Posted May 29, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Democrats have lost the male white vote 70%-30% for the last decade. They ALSO lose the white female vote 55%-44% so where are you getting 40% of the white vote going to Democrats??
        As LBJ said: “If we pass this (the War on Poverty programs), we’ll have the n-ggers’ vote for the next 200 years.” Sound familiar?? EXACTLY what the ObamaCon Tax is designed to do – buy Democrat votes.

  3. Posted September 30, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink | Reply

    Facts are facts and history cannot be rewritten. Romney has alienated too many people in the GOP, women, minorities, etc.etc. White men can try to pull him out of the stink but they will in all probability fall into it if they are not standing in it already. Hope springs eternal but you have to have a basis for hoping. Tax cuts are not a new idea, and the voting public want a new idea that Romney has failed to come up with.

    • Brian d. Gray
      Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I second that… I also wonder when the GOP talks about skewed polls they don’t bring up September’s AP poll which showed Obama ahead only 1 in their likely voter model but 10 in the RV model. Their likely voter model only showed 63% of RV’s voting when in 1996 82 % of registered voters showed up, 2000 85.5%, 2004 88.5 % and in 2008 it was 89.6%. It seems quite a few on here feel the 2004 turnout model should be used BUT the 2008 model shows 1.8% more 75 & olders showing up, .5% more 65 to 74 year olds, and 2.5% more 55 to 64 year olds turning out compared to 2004. All three of those age demographics are heavily GOP.In sheer numbers 500,000 more 75+’s, 1,166,000 65-74’s and over 2,500,000 more 55-64’s showed up from 2004 to 2008.

10 Trackbacks

  1. […] first point remains as true as ever, but it is the second point that gets curiouser by the day. The brunt of my time is spent blogging […]

  2. […] fact that 1.7 million White voters stayed home in 2008. I addressed this issue at length in “The Reality of 2012 Voter Turnout: The White Voter” where we saw that in the 2008 election a -1.1% election-over-election drop in White […]

  3. […] Obama campaign will create and parrot any false story they can to improve Obama’s chances and keep Romney voters home. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was written by […]

  4. […] bad, bad for the President. Importantly, the 2008 election racial demographics fail to account for 1.7 million White voters who stayed home in that election but appear to be more than enthusiastic this time around. In 2008 that was over […]

  5. […] I have shown many times the White turnout in 2008 nationally was artificially low based on nearly 2 million White voters staying home.  This year they are both motivated and enthusiastic so drop-offs like that are leftist fantasy […]

  6. By Czernobog's Daily Electoral Map - Page 186 on October 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    […] […]

  7. […] outlined previously, 1.7 million White voters (who voted in 2004) did not vote in 2008. This means from a racial […]

  8. […] As outlined previously, 1.7 million White voters (who voted in 2004) did not vote in 2008. This means from a racial composition stand-point the 2008 demographic breakdown is over-generous to the non-White groups and somewhat of an anomaly due to the missing White demographic who voted in 2004 but sat out last time. This is not an argument against the decreasing percentage of White voters in election, because the overall increase in the non-White voting population is very real. The problem with Team Obama’s assumptions, however, is they decrease the White vote -4.3pp to 72% this election cycle when there is no evidence to support such a steep decline. […]

  9. […] in 2008 was that a meaningful percentage of white voters simply stayed home.” (source: http://battlegroundwatch.com/2012/09/26/the-reality-of-2012-voter-turnout-the-white-voter/)   The fact is, there is a significant electoral shift in the population of the United States and […]

  10. By The White Male Voter No Show! | The Federal Observer on February 10, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    […] “What’s missing in all the analysis is who did not show up in the 2008 election: White voters. Looking back at those results, every voter turnout rate by race (relative to eligible population) was up versus 2004 except the white vote according to Pew Research (April 30, 2009). Blacks were up +4.9%, Hispanics were up +2.7%, Asians were up +2.4%. But the percentage of White voters who showed up at the polls relative to who was eligible dropped -1.1% (Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, May 2010). This has nothing to do with minorities making up more or less of the electorate. This is simply saying from 2004 to 2008 White voter registration (which actually dropped 104k) and actual turnout of White voters (which increased 500k) did not keep up with voting age White population increases. Within this drop of White voter turnout, over 3x as many men as women comprised those voters staying home in the election. But the bottom line is one of the advantages Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008 was that a meaningful percentage of white voters simply stayed home.” – (SOURCE) […]

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