President Obama won a second term on Tuesday for at least three concrete, demographic reasons.
He maintained a broad advantage among female voters, which was more than enough to overcome a deficit among men.
The prediction that black enthusiasm for Obama would taper off this year, by comparison to his historic 2008 run, was simply wrong.
More broadly, the Obama brain trust was right on the mark in its projections of the ethnic composition of the electorate. Seventy-two percent of voters this year were white, a drop-off of 2 percentage points since 2008. Skeptics had suggested that the white share of the vote would hold steady or even increase this year.
Put it all together and this goes a large part of the way to explaining how Obama defied the gravitational pull of a historically elevated rate of unemployment and the broader negative effects of an economy that continues to struggle with the reverberations from the Great Recession.
He did so with as much ease as Democrats could reasonably have expected when Election Day dawned. Although the popular vote remained close late into the night, Obama won a comfortable victory in the Electoral College.
As of 2 a.m. Wednesday, Romney was assured of victory in only two of the battleground states that Obama won in 2008 — Indiana, which was not seriously contested this year, and North Carolina. The result in Florida had not been declared.
Two early signs foretold what was to come.
At 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Virginia became the very first battleground state to close its polls — and exit polling immediately indicated an extremely close race. The commonwealth was near the top of Romney’s target list.
By contrast, the networks called Michigan for Obama as soon as polls closed there at 9 p.m. EST, Conservative groups had argued that Romney had a chance of pulling off an upset there. Obama's win there was not a surprise, but his capacity to snuff out Romney’s hopes instantly was a shock to conservatives.
In due course, Obama rolled up prompt victories in Democratic-leaning states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, whereas Romney struggled for hours to put away North Carolina. Obama had not visited the Tar Heel State since leaving the Democratic National Convention held there in early September. Romney ultimately eked out a narrow victory.
The result is guaranteed to spark a period of Republican soul-searching and, perhaps, blood-letting. While some of the post-election analysis on the right will focus on Romney’s shortcomings as a candidate, a bigger question will surround how the GOP broadens its appeal, especially to non-whites and among female voters.
Exit polls indicate that the president beat Romney by 12 percentage points among women nationwide. From a Republican perspective, that represented a negligible improvement — a mere single percentage point — from Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain responds to North Korean criticism to calling Kim Jong-un 'crazy fat kid' Overnight Finance: Dems seek probe of acting SEC chief | Defense hawks say they won't back short-term funding | Senate seen as start point for Trump infrastructure plan | Dems want more money for IRS Overnight Defense: Pentagon considers more troops for Afghanistan | McCain, Graham won't back short-term funding | GOP defends Trump rules of engagement MORE’s showing against Obama in 2008. It was also easily enough for Obama to overcome a 7-point deficit among male voters.
In the days to come, controversial remarks by Republican senate candidates such as Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), as well as the party’s emphasis on its opposition to abortion rights, will come under renewed scrutiny.
The ethnic composition of the electorate also presents conundrums for the GOP.
The black vote held steady this year, comprising 13 percent of the total vote, just as it did in 2008. Hispanics edged up 1 point, to 10 percent from 9 percent.
Even though the Republican edge among whites broadened by 6 percentage points — from 12 percent to 18 percent — the changing nature of the electorate, along with the size of the cushion Obama had from his 2008 victory, kept him safe.
Worryingly for Republicans, Obama’s already overwhelming margin among Hispanics broadened further Tuesday night. In 2008, he won among Latinos by 36 points — 67 percent to 31 percent. On Tuesday, he expanded that advantage to a full 40 points: 69 percent to 29 percent.
The demographic factors played an outsize role in some key states. In Ohio, for example, African-Americans accounted for 15 percent of the total vote this year, compared to 11 percent in 2008. Ninety-six percent of those voters backed Obama.
In Colorado, the Latino share of the vote actually fell slightly, to 11 percent from 13 percent since 2008. But Obama won those voters by almost 50 points this time around (74 percent to 25 percent) rather than the 23-point margin (61 percent to 38 percent) of 2008.
“The Hispanic population will grow faster than any other demographic, meaning this political problem is growing for Republicans. We need more Hispanic candidates, more Hispanic outreach and less bellicose language on immigration,” GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told The Hill in the aftermath of Tuesday’s results.
For Obama, the victory will be sweeter in some ways than his 2008 win.
His reelection secures the future of the healthcare law, the achievement that is likely to be his most significant domestic legacy. It gives him another four years to bolster his economic record. And he can seek other big goals, possibly including immigration reform.
Above all, Obama knows that he is free of the taint that attaches itself to all one-term presidents.
His inauguration does not take place till January but, in reality, his second term begins now.