One of the big questions with the 2012 is just how white will the electorate be (Chait comes right out and puts it that way; the headline writers at the National Journal are much more circumspect with “Familiar Divisions give Obama narrow edge.” No matter how you talk about it, though, it is safe to say the percentage of the electorate that ends up being white versus the percentage that is minority will go along way towards determining whether Obama or Romney wins the election.
This all comes to light because Political Scientist extraordinaire, Alan Abramowitz did some work to get to the bottom of why Gallup polls keep coming up more pro-Romney than all the others. Short version: all polls weight by demographics and Gallup assumes a whiter 2012 electorate than anybody else. Thus, this is an instructive case both on demographics and vote and the art– rather than science– of polling. From Ron Brownstein:
But the Gallup track, which is conducted among registered voters, has a sample that looks much more like the electorate in 2010 than the voting population that is likely to turn out in 2012: only 22 percent of the Gallup survey was non-white, according to figures the organization provided to Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz. That was close to the non-white share of the vote in 2010 (23 percent), but in 2008, minorities comprised 26 percent of all voters, according to exit polls; the Obama campaign, and other analysts, project the minority share of the vote will increase to 28 percent in 2012. In its survey, Pew, for instance, puts the non-white share at 25 percent.
Building off Brownstein, Chait
brings us some more interesting numbers:
The white share of the electorate has been falling steadily for two decades, from 87 percent in 1992 to 83 percent in 1996 to 81 percent in 2000, 77 percent in 2004, and 74 percent four years ago. Most of that decline came from the growth of Latino and Asian-American voters, though Obama’s 2008 election also benefited from an unusual burst of African-American voting. Given that Obama enjoyed a seven percentage point cushion in 2008, he could again lose a large share of the white vote and still eke out a win. The number-crunching blog electionate
calculates that Obama, who won 43 percent of the white vote last time, could still win with 38 percent of the white vote — as long as the white share of the electorate does not increase.
Have to say, I was surprised to learn about Gallup’s demographic weighting here. Chait explains some reasons that minority turnout may be harder to activate this time around, but it is really hard to imagine the electorate looking more like 2010 than 2008. And, of course, in the end a very good reminder that elections are very much not just about how people vote but who actually does the voting. And for Obama, the more non-whites (and, of course the highly educated whites like me– and probably you), the better.