It’s not hard to understand why Republicans tend to fall back on a strategy of reducing the share of black, brown and young people who are eligible to vote, while seeming to whip up resentment among working class white Americans: demographics.
The National Journal sums it up nicely:
One key reason why Democrats have grown more competitive in presidential elections since 1992 (after losing five of the previous six) is the steady growth in the minority share of the vote. In 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected, non-whites cast 12 percent of the vote. When Barack Obama won in 2008, the minority share stood at 26 percent, more than double. How much more it grows, if at all, looms as one of the critical variables for 2012. The Obama camp is beginning to zero in on its projection.
A common misconception is that the minority share of the vote experienced an unsustainable surge in 2008 because of Obama’s history-making status as the first African-American presidential nominee. In fact, the growth in the minority role has been steady over the past two decades, according to network exit polls. From 12 percent in 1992, the minority share of the vote increased to 17 percent in 1996, 21 percent in 2000, and 23 percent in 2004, before reaching its 26 percent level in 2008.
Sources close to the campaign say that in its internal planning the Obama team projects that the minority share of the vote in 2012 will rise to 28 percent. The campaign’s analysis shows that minorities are continuing to increase their presence in voter registration rolls faster than whites.
Why is minority vote share so important?
If the minority vote share does reach the 28 percent the Obama campaign projects, that could allow the president to reach a national majority of the popular vote with a smaller share of the white vote than most people assume-and force Republicans to run up numbers among whites they have not matched in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
In 2008, Obama carried 80 percent of all non-white voters. If he matched that percentage in 2012, and those minority voters increase their share of the vote to 28 percent, he could win a national majority with just 38 percent of the white vote. There’s no guarantee Obama could reach even that modest level. For most of 2011, his approval rating among whites ran below 40 percent in most surveys, and Democrats carried just 37 percent of whites in the House mid-term elections, according to the 2010 exit polls. In several Senate races that year (including New Hampshire, Arkansas and Indiana), the Democratic candidates fell below the 38 percent level.
Still, no Democratic presidential nominee has been held to less than 38 percent of the white vote since Walter Mondale carried just 35 percent when he was buried by Reagan’s landslide in 1984. (Even Michael Dukakis reached 40 percent in 1988; Bill Clinton managed 39 percent in the three-way race that included Ross Perot in 1992). In the past four presidential elections, the Democratic share of the white vote has varied only between a low of 41 percent (for John Kerry against George W. Bush in 2004) and a high of 43 percent (for Clinton in 1996 and Obama last time.) And while Obama’s approval rating is still running below 40 percent among whites in the weekly average of the Gallup nightly tracking poll, he reached 43 percent with them in last week’s ABC/Washington Post survey and exactly 40 percent in today’s CNN/ORC survey. Matched against Romney in a head-to-head match-up, Obama actually did slightly better: he attracted 42 percent of whites in the ABC/Washington Post survey, 44 percent in Pew’s national poll this week, and 44 percent in the CNN/ORC survey.
All of that suggests that while it’s conceivable Obama might fall below 38 percent among whites in November, Republicans probably don’t want to bet on it. …
… If the minority share of the vote increases to 28 percent, and Obama wins 75 percent of those voters, rather than his 80 percent from 2008, he would need to win 40 percent of the white vote to obtain a national majority. If Obama’s performance among minority voters falls to the 73 percent Democrats attracted in the 2010 mid-term, he would need to attract 41 percent of whites in November to reach a national majority.
So again, even if President Obama were to underperform his 2008 white vote share, if indeed minorities make up two percent more of the voting population, he has something like three percentage points to give. For Republicans, that means the ballgame is to do one of two things: increase their own share of the minority vote, which so far, Romney is not doing, or drive up Romney’s share of the white vote to a level we haven’t seen in American politics in more than 30 years.