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Racism & Obama: He’s a Beneficiary, Not a Victim

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Note: a version of this piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal on May 27, 2014.

Evidence from exit polling strongly suggests that Barack Obama’s two presidential victories relied on race-based bloc voting that no Democratic nominee could readily replicate in 2016.
This analysis, of course, directly contradicts one of the core assumptions of the left-leaning commentariat, which considers it an article of faith that the president’s racial identity hurts him more than it helps him with the electorate at large. Democrats instinctively blame any and all criticism of their leader on the racism of white voters and support this view by citing the big white majorities won by both his Republican rivals. In the historic election of 2008, whites still comprised 74% of the overall electorate and preferred McCain-Palin over Obama-Biden by a landslide margin of 57% to 43%. For Chris Matthews and his horrified liberal colleagues, this rejection could only reflect deep-seated bias on the part of the rejectionists.

“He’s the perfect husband, the perfect father, the perfect American,” Mr. Matthews enthused on MSNBC in the heat of the 2012 re-election campaign. “And all they do is trash the guy. And it’s impossible for me to believe they would have said the same things about a Walter Mondale or a Jimmy Carter or a Bill Clinton. There’s an ethnic piece to this.”

This endlessly recycled claim ignores an inconvenient truth: No Democratic nominee since the Ford-Carter election of 1976 got a higher percentage of white voters than did Mr. Obama in 2008. In 1996, Bill Clinton equaled Mr. Obama’s share of the white electorate (the candidates drew an identical 43%) but no Democratic nominee in the 45 years of modern exit polling has actually won a white majority. Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 both drew smaller shares of the white vote (42% and 41%, respectively) than did the first black candidate in 2008.

Mr. Obama fared noticeably worse among white voters in 2012 than in 2008, winning only 39%. But this weaker showing surely reflected disappointment with his performance in office more than some sudden, inexplicable explosion of racial prejudice. Bigots who couldn’t accept the idea of a black president would have felt more motivated to turn out to prevent one from capturing the White House in the first place, rather than waiting until 2012 to express their disapproval.

Mr. Obama’s percentage of the black vote remained virtually unchanged between 2008 (95%) and 2012 (93%) while his support from Latinos and Asians actually ticked upward—to 71% from 68%, and 73% from 64% of those ethnic groups, respectively. Those increases may have stemmed from Mitt Romney’s perceived hostility to immigrants (especially when compared with John McCain, a prominent supporter of immigration reform), but it still left Mr. Obama with the highest-ever levels of nonwhite support.

Had the president achieved anything less than those crushing majorities among non-white voters, had his support among minorities resembled the “normal” levels that characterized nearly all his Democratic predecessors, the outcome of the election could have been profoundly different. John Kerry, the last candidate of the party’s pre-Obama era, received 88% of the black vote, 53% of Hispanics, 56% of Asians and 54% of those who identified themselves as “other.” With these margins in 2012, Mr. Obama would have lost the popular vote. More remarkably, he would have lost decisively in the Electoral College. If Mr. Romney had earned his national percentage of the white vote (59%) with white California voters—and if he had secured the same percentages among blacks, Latinos and Asians in California that George W. Bush won nationally in 2008—he would have carried the Golden State in 2012.

In this scenario, Mr. Romney’s margin in the most diverse major state in the country would have been razor thin—49.15% to Mr. Obama’s 48.25%—assuming that 2.6% of votes still went to minor party candidates. Still, the lesson of this exercise is a sobering one, especially for Democrats. Without Mr. Obama’s overwhelming margins among minorities, even the bluest of blue states could have been in play. Without his powerful race-based appeal, a future Democratic nominee might fall back to a less lop-sided share of the non-white vote, following partisan patterns established over the course of a quarter century.

With no special appeal to minorities in 1996, Bob Dole won 12% of the black vote. This was twice the share won by either of Mr. Obama’s Republican rivals—even though Mr. Dole’s opponent Bill Clinton had been celebrated throughout his career for his popularity among African-Americans. A competitive Republican candidate need only equal the performance among minorities of such conventional standard bearers as Messrs. Bush and Dole, still ceding Democrats two-thirds (or less) of the growing, non-white segment of the electorate. Without a barrier-breaking black candidate, and without the three-fourths of voters of color that Obama delivered in 2008 and 2012, the Democratic electoral edge all but disappears in 2016. This means that if the next GOP nominee can come close to duplicating Mr. Romney’s decisive advantage with white voters, even enthusiastic minority turnouts wouldn’t prevent the Republican from recapturing the White House.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Bill  •  May 29, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    My comment is about the show i heard on May 29 2014 When I hear some of the most ignorant
    people in my life I wish I could say this on radio Dear Everyone in the last five years how many
    places went out of business since the Obama takeover In upstate New York How many public auctions have happened One guy says Oh you cant blame one guy bama can’t be in three places at once Name one place he has been and actually worked ? What ,,besides broadcasting FEAR in every business owner about obamacare and giving payment hikes to all the jerks on the government TIT and making sure all his supporters get a FREE cel phone What the Hell has Obama done Jimmy Carter is Happy Obama is in office because Obama
    is making Carter look so good and I thought Carter Stunk
    Whats Next If i have to look at that bug eyed bastard hillary the crook, or her liar hubby in the white house again Im moving to Tibet
    This other liar who called in said his father made $20 per hour driving truck in the 1950’s
    and 1960″s NOBODY who drove truck then made that kind of money These are the type liar
    phoney clueless bastards who voted Bama in They voted for a black guy and thats all they wanted Bama could have said anything about the clueless bastards mother and they would have still voted for Bama All Bama has like Clinton before is a good line of BULLSHIT
    I Remember the feelling when Reagan was in Man A new Rubbermaid factory opened in Cortland New York It closed when crooked clinton and his nafta crap took place
    Clinton the most useless bastard who got rid of the glass stiegel laws gave Bush the crash
    that was bound to happen WAKE up you cluless bastards who only think ABC tells the truth
    about the Republican party ABC is pro Clinton and Pro Bama BAMA can do no wrong
    Has any black caller said yet what bama has done well??? Or what swayed their opinion
    was it a speech bama made or was it his color’
    The cluless would have voted for OJ simpson if he ran for president the same IDIOTS who STILL
    think Oj is Innocent in JAIL
    I wrote my peace God Bless America and to Hell with Bama Clinton Bloomberg Feinstein, and all the other Bamas who Stay at a Hotel in China at 8000$ per night and that not including
    the cost of the Air Force one or the Secret service that Public taxdollars paid for
    Yeah there movin on up Bama says in secret Hurray for me and to hell with ya’ll Sucka’s


    • Joseph Toth Jr.  •  May 30, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      You said it all,and quite well I might add. I wish I could add to it. Thanks for saying what I and many others are thinking.

    • Claire  •  Jun 20, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Amen Bill. I read it all and agree 100%. Thank you for the rant.

  2. Dallas Kipp  •  Jun 21, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Yup; Mr. Medved and Bill have expressed it as well as it can be. I would only add that this may explain why Obama is flooding the U.S. with illegals and refusing to deport them. They would add to the nonwhite voting block and soon it will make no difference what the white voter does.

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