Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Election exit polls hold silver lining for GOP

The 2012 presidential election was definitely a disappointment for Republicans. In spite of a poor economy and questions about his leadership, Barack Obama won a narrow victory in the popular vote by a margin of 51 to 48 percent over Mitt Romney. The electoral vote margin was 332-206 in favor of Obama. A comparison of 2012 and 2008 exit polls by CNN shows that there are some silver linings for the Republicans.

In 2008, John McCain lost virtually every demographic except for white men and women. Mitt Romney improved on McCain’s performance among white voters by winning 59 percent to McCain’s 55 percent. From 2008 to 2012 the percentage of the electorate represented by white voters declined from 74 to 72 percent, which meant that Romney’s improved performance counted for less.

A major problem for Romney was that Obama retained the lock on black voters and Romney actually lost ground among Hispanics and Asians. Obama won 95 percent of black voters in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012. The percentage of Hispanics voting for the GOP candidate declined from 31 to 27 percent and the percentage of Asians voting for Romney was 26 percent to McCain’s 35 percent.

When gender and race are considered, black and Hispanic men supported Obama with much less enthusiasm than did minority women. Only 87 percent of black men voted for Obama versus 96 percent of black women. Sixty-five percent of Hispanic men and 76 percent of Hispanic women supported the president. White women favored Romney, but Obama’s support was greater among white women (42 percent) than among white men (35 percent).

By gender, Mitt Romney won 52 percent of the male vote to Barack Obama’s 45 percent. The female vote remained almost the same in the two elections. Obama won 56 percent in 2008 and 55 percent in 2012. John McCain lost the male vote by one point.

In 2008, John McCain won only voters who were older than 65. In 2012, Mitt Romney won voters age 40 and above. Both Republicans also won married voters, McCain by 52 percent and Romney by 56 percent. Obama won unmarried voters in both years by more than 60 percent.

With respect to ideology, in 2008 22 percent of voters identified as liberal, 34 percent conservative and 44 percent moderate. In 2012, there were 25 percent liberal, 35 percent conservative, and 41 percent moderate. In 2008, 60 percent of moderates voted for Obama. In 2012, the president again won the moderate vote, this time by 56 percent.

Party affiliation in 2008 was 39 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican, and 29 percent independent. This was almost exactly the same as 2012. All three candidates won approximately 90 percent of their party in both elections. In 2008, Barack Obama won the independent vote by 52-44 percent. However in 2012 Mitt Romney won independents by 50-45 percent.

Romney also won the middle class and upper income voters handily. Romney won the middle class by a margin of 52-46 percent. Voters who earn more than $100,000 voted for Romney by 54-44 percent. In 2008, John McCain tied Barack Obama in these two groups at 49 percent each. In both years, Obama won lower income voters (less than $50,000) by 60 percent.

The problem for Romney was that there weren’t as many middle class voters in 2012 as there were in 2008. Voters earning from $50-100,000 declined from 36 to 31 percent of the electorate. The percentage of voters earning less than $50,000 increased from 38 to 41 percent.

Seventy-four percent said that the economy or the deficit was the most important issue facing the country. Romney scored higher on both those issues as well as on taxes. Obama scored higher on housing and unemployment. The two candidates tied on who would better handle rising prices.

Eighteen percent said that healthcare was the most important issue facing the country. Of those voters, 75 percent chose Obama. Voters favored repeal of all or part of Obamacare by a margin of 49-44 percent.

A majority of voters did believe that taxes should be increased. Forty-seven percent said that taxes should be increased on Americans who earn more than $250,000 while 13 percent said that they should be increased on everyone. At the same time, 63 percent said taxes should not be raised to cut the deficit.

Seventy-seven percent of voters agreed that the economy was poor. Thirty-nine percent believed it was improving. Romney won a majority of the 59 percent who said the economy was getting worse or staying the same. Voters rejected the idea that government should do more by 43-51 percent.

Abortion was not the disastrous issue for the GOP that some have presented it to be. While most voters (59 percent) said it should be all or mostly legal, 40 percent of the 30 percent who said that it should be mostly legal voted for Romney. Abortion did not rank as one of the most important issues.

The issue that seemed to hurt Republicans most was immigration. With most other issues were tied or nearly so, the Republican position on immigration was rejected in a landslide. By more than a two-to-one margin (65-28 percent), voters believed that illegal immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered legal status. The hard line on immigration taken by many Republican candidates obviously cost the party many votes in the Hispanic and Asian communities.

Several other factors helped to save the day for Obama. The first was that although more than three quarters of voters thought that the economy was poor, only 38 percent blamed Obama. Fifty-three percent still blame George W. Bush.

More voters had a favorable view of Obama than Romney. Obama’s favorable rating was 53 percent while Romney’s was 47 percent. Ironically, the president’s approval rating was stronger in exit polls than both Rasmussen and Gallup polling showed at the time (50 and 49 percent respectively). This may suggest that some voters who did not approve of Obama stayed away from the polls.

Negative ads may have influenced some Romney voters to stay home. Obama outspent Romney on political ads according to the Wesleyan Media Project and a larger percentage of Obama’s ads were negative according to Politico. In 2008, Obama ran a largely positive campaign in contrast to 2012 when he began attacking Mitt Romney long before the Republican nomination was decided.

The final factor was Hurricane Sandy. Sixty-four percent of voters said that the president’s response to the hurricane was a factor in their vote and 62 percent of these voters chose Obama. Both Rasmussen and Gallup polling showed an uptick in Obama’s approval in the days after Hurricane Sandy struck New York.

There were bright spots for Republicans. Voters sent a decidedly mixed message on Election Day. They oppose the growth of government and still dislike Obamacare. The middle class and the wealthy solidly supported Romney, as did independent voters. Most voters do not trust Obama to handle the economy. The election was not a wholesale rejection of Republican principles with the exception of one issue: immigration.

The worst news for the country was the decline in voter turnout as a whole. In 2012, there were 121 million voters. This was down from 125 million voters in 2008. President Obama won the election, but with more than 4 million fewer votes than in his first election. These numbers reflect a very divided country and a loss of faith in government.

Originally published on

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