Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Was the Presidential Election a Progressive Win?

2012 Presidential Election Results by State. Map by Ernesto Barahona.

2012 Presidential Election Results by State. Map by Ernesto Barahona, November 8, 2012. CC-SA.

On the surface, President Obama’s reelection appears to have been the electoral equivalent of a progressive exclamation point. Obama not only won 8 of the original 10 battleground states (winning: CO, FL, IA, NH, NM, NV, OH, VA; losing: IN and NC), but also earned a whopping 332 electoral votes.

A cursory comparison of CNN’s exit polls from 2008 and 2012 also seems to suggest that the “emerging Democratic majority” first described by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira is beginning to take hold. Latinos, Asians, and young people (18-29) made up a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than they did in 2008 (each group gained a percentage point), while whites made up a smaller share (72% in 2012 instead of 74% in 2008). Further, President Obama’s margins among Latinos and Asians grew between the two elections by four (from 67% to 71%) and 11 percentage points (62% to 73%), respectively. Some have even gone further to argue that the country is now “center-left” because “the Republican Party lost the middle everywhere, and as a result the map got slightly bluer everywhere.”

But is this the correct interpretation of the trends above?

The simple answer to this question is “not exactly.”

As James E. Campbell, SUNY Buffalo, noted during last weekend’s Northeastern Political Science Association Conference, the 2012 exit polls also revealed that 51% of the electorate believes that the government is doing too much, while only 43% believe it should do more. Additionally, more of the electorate said that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed than not (49% to 44%).

Beyond these data, Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics.com pointed out the real issue that neither progressives nor conservatives can afford to ignore in their interpretations of the results: “The 2012 elections actually weren’t about a demographic explosion with non-white voters. Instead, they were about a large group of white voters not showing up.”

So who didn’t show up?