Economics may be priority one in the 2012 presidential election, but the people who are voting matter, too. That is one conclusion from a new report that predicts that Election Day 2012 will be a "showdown" between demographics and economics.
"The Path to 270," a report released today from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, says that a sagging economy and an enthusiastic Republican base could wipe out President Obama's incumbency advantage in the 2012 presidential race. However, the president could maintain an advantage due to substantial support among several demographic groups, particularly the fast-growing Hispanic population.
"On the one hand, the state of the economy, writ large, is the biggest factor in favor of the GOP candidate, whoever that might be. ... That's the biggest thing the Republicans have going for them," said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress and one of the study's authors, at a panel discussion today. "On the other hand, the demographic shifts in this country ... are very much in favor of Democrats and will help Obama in the 2012 election."
A look at 2008 shows that the president had the support of 80 percent of minorities and only a four-point disadvantage among white college graduates. Meanwhile, among the white working class, Republicans had an 18-point advantage. But the minority share of voters is projected to have grown by 2 percent from 2008 to 2012, and growth among white college graduates is projected at 1 percent, whereas the white working-class share of the electorate is projected to shrink by 3 percent.
According to the report, even if white working-class voters support the GOP presidential candidate by a 30-point margin, as they did Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, the president can still win the popular vote if he retains his support among white college graduates.
The president also has a commanding lead among African-Americans in polls, and the booming Hispanic population also has demonstrated heavy support for the president, favoring him heavily against GOP front-runners in a recent Univision News/Latino Decisions survey.
In light of these demographic divides, says the paper, Republicans could maximize their chances for success if they cut significantly into Obama's 2008 white-college-graduate support and focus on the economy, while downplaying their positions on issues like religion, social issues, immigration, and Social Security and Medicare.
However, the equation for determining success in 2012 may be far more complex than demographics versus economics. "When it comes to the 2012 election, demographics will certainly play a part, when it comes to the Latino vote," says Luis Alvarado, strategic adviser at Revolvis Consulting, a Republican consulting firm. For example, Latino voters, as with many other voters nationwide, see economics as priority one, and "they see themselves as affected as any other American would by the economic woes of the country."
Of course, it is important to note that racial and ethnic groups have been affected differently by the economic downturn. For instance, according to the Pew Research Center, from 2005 to 2009, Hispanic households' median wealth decreased by 66 percent, and that of blacks fell by 53 percent, compared to just 16 percent among white households. Furthermore, as of 2009, the median wealth of white households was 20 times as high as that of black households and 18 times as high as that of Hispanic households.
Economics is just one force that muddies the picture of how demographics might affect an election; another is disillusionment. Alvarado says that Latinos who moved to the left in 2008 and who are now disappointed in President Obama's policies on issues like immigration may be tempted to altogether not come out on Election Day. Instead, they may adopt "the fallback Latino sense of politics that they're all crooks, they're all crooked ... and I'm not going to vote for any of them," he says.
However, he adds that disenchantment also transcends racial and ethnic lines: "Democrats who are hoping to get the same kind of energy that was demonstrated in 2008 are going to be gravely disappointed when they notice that minorities are not going to be as effervescent as they were in 2008."