Election 2008

voter turnout, voter demographics
Peoria Journal Star, David Zalaznik/AP

Obama Victory Sealed by Minorities, Women

November 05, 2008 04:50 PM
by Liz Colville
Among the highest voter turnout in a century, young voters, African Americans, Hispanics and Jewish voters made up a significant portion of those who chose Obama.

Record Voter Turnout

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Michael McDonald of George Mason University estimated November 5 that “136.6 million Americans will have voted for president this election, based on 88 percent of the country's precincts tallied and projections for absentee ballots,” the Associated Press reported. This equates to a 64.1 percent turnout rate, which is the “highest turnout rate that we’ve seen since 1908,” McDonald said.

According to a final analysis of Election 2008 polls by Gallup, President-Elect Barack Obama was able to assert himself, winning about 67 percent of the organization’s daily tracking polls, because he “had struck the right chord with voters on the economy and met or exceeded expectations in the debates.” Gallup suggests that Republican allegiance for Ariz. Sen. John McCain was still high—around 87 percent—but Democratic registration and turnout likely helped Obama close the sale.

The reason for all the “overwhelming” numbers in favor of Obama, from demographics that include young voters, gays and lesbians, Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans is that, according to John Nichols of The Nation, America was ready to embrace progress. “A clear and decisive result suggests that we are prepared to dream anew that patriot’s dream, and to go about the work of perfecting it.” Only among white men did Obama and McCain draw even, according to exit polls.

Background: Obama’s Winning Demographics

The African-American Vote

The possibility of an African American achieving the highest office in the nation was, for the vast majority of African Americans, a watershed moment and a manifestation of the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists. Exit polls reported that 97 percent of African Americans voted for Obama.

Racial tension between the Obama campaign and established black leaders including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Jeremiah Wright—the latter was the Obama family’s sometime pastor in Chicago—amounted to a few bumps in the road for an Obama campaign that was otherwise remarkably seamless. Denouncing Rev. Wright for critical comments Wright made about him in the press, Obama delivered a memorable speech on race in March during the primary season.

The Female Vote

According to MSNBC, women were one key to Obama’s success. Women are normally “crucial to a Democratic victory” and, according to exit polls, Obama “was pulling 55 percent of [women’s] votes, compared with 43 percent for McCain.” Women also made up a larger portion of the electorate than men, exit polls showed. Several women interviewed by MSNBC said McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his running mate affected their decision. A two-time Bush voter said she thought McCain’s decision was primarily gender-based.

About 70 percent of married women—mothers and non-mothers alike—voted for Obama, MSNBC conjectured, up from 53 percent in the 2004 election.

The Hispanic Vote

According to an aggregate of polls by Gallup, in the final polling period of Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, 74 percent of Hispanic voters favored Obama and 20 percent favored McCain. The number of projected Hispanic Obama supporters grew from week to week, according to Gallup’s statistics.

Prior to the election, the Obama campaign said it was spending $20 million to recruit the Hispanic vote by means of “get-out-the-vote efforts and Spanish-language media.” The campaign translated Obama’s 30-minute “infomercial” to Spanish and broadcast it on Univision in just one effort to sway Hispanic voters and communicate Obama’s economic message, which proposes tax cuts for middle-class Americans. McCain, for his part, was thought to benefit from “25 years of history with the Hispanic community,” a Hispanic outreach coordinator for the McCain campaign told the Miami Herald in October.

The Jewish Vote

Despite late-in-the-game tactics by the McCain team that attempted to paint Obama as unsupportive of Israel, Obama was still able to recruit Jewish voters in great numbers. He was spurred by get-out-the-vote support by volunteers and Jewish celebrities like Sarah Silverman, who organized a “Great Schlep” to Florida to convince Jewish parents and grandparents to vote for the Democrat.

Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, citing exit polls, reported November 5 that Obama “received about 77 percent of the Jewish vote.” This number surpassed Mass. Sen. John Kerry in 2004, but did not beat Al Gore’s reported 79 percent in 2000 (Gore’s running mate, Conn. Sen. Joe Lieberman, is Jewish). As for the McCain campaign’s efforts, “the campaign waged against [Obama] by Republican Jews comprised ‘baseless smears,’” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of the Jewish lobby group J Street.

The Asian-American Vote

October’s National Asian American Survey (NAAS), reportedly the largest survey of Asian-American voters ever conducted, found that 41 percent of more than 4,000 likely voters surveyed were in support of Obama, while 24 percent supported McCain and 34 percent remained undecided.

John Nichols of The Nation, reporting on Obama’s “many majorities” Nov. 5, put the number of Asian supporters for the president-elect at 63 percent, just slightly less than the Hispanic voter percentage of Obama supporters—67 percent.

Reference: Race, Immigration and America’s Changing Electorate

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