Posted by on June 05, 2012 in Blog

By Nicole Abi-Esber

2012 Summer Intern

Political pollster John Zogby published two pieces recently on, indicating which factors will be most crucial in determining the winner of the upcoming presidential elections. He argues that, for both the Obama and Romney campaigns, it will be more important to attempt to maximize votes from usually supportive demographic groups than to attempt to sway the middle. Because small percentage increases or decreases in turnout of Obama or Romney base voters can account for millions of votes, voter turnout will almost certainly be the most decisive factor.

According to Zogby, to win, Romney must maximize votes from whites and conservatives:

Conservatives are a more specific target group, and the one Romney desperately needs to maximize.  Conservatives of all stripes made up  34% of voters in 2008.  In 2008, McCain won among conservatives, 78%-20%, with 35 million votes. Now, conservatives favor Romney over Obama, 77%-10%, with 13% undecided. Obama is very unlikely to get more than a percent or two of those uncommitted conservatives, leaving room to grow for Romney.
But will they vote in numbers needed for Romney to win?  Many of those folks on the right not yet committed to Romney are Evangelicals.  With them, Romney leads, 60%-26%, with 14% undecided. His shift from being pro-choice to pro-life on abortion causes suspicion. So may Romney’s faith: Mormonism. People may not reveal those kinds of biases in polls, but the high number of undecided Evangelicals raises questions whether Romney’s Mormonism  is a factor. It may be more telling that Romney talks very little about his religion, even though by all accounts he is deeply committed to his faith.
The GOP base is both Romney’s strength and potential weakness. Conservatives, who have always been reliable voters, are even more motivated at the prospect of defeating Obama. There are more conservatives than liberals, and they are usually more likely to vote than the young, Hispanic and African-American Democratic constituencies.  To date, Romney has been all in with every facet of social and fiscal conservative beliefs.

For Obama to win, he must make sure his Latino, Black, and liberal White supporters turn out for the vote:

In 2008, 133 million votes were cast for President. Since the total vote rarely goes down and the turnout for Obama was so high among new voters four years ago, projecting a turnout of 133 million again is reasonable.
In 2008, Hispanics made up 9% of the electorate, and Obama won 69%  for eight million votes. Now, he is taking 61% of Hispanic voters, which would be 7.3 million votes. Some suggest Republican policies on immigration may push Hispanic turnout to 11% of the vote, which based on Obama’s current polling would total 8.9 million.   But with Hispanics hit hard by the economy, their percentage of the vote could drop as low as 8%, or 6.5 million votes for Obama. From high to low is a difference of 2.4 million votes for Obama, more than enough to swing the entire election.
African-Americans are a more stable  electorate because they have a longer history of voting and a strong loyalty to Obama. They were 11% of all voters in 2008, and that will likely repeat this year. Obama won 95% of African-Americans then, and polls have him at 91% now, or 13.3 million votes based on the 2008 turnout. If the African-American total of all voters drops from 2008, Obama loses approximately 1.2 million votes for each percentage point decrease.
The final Democratic base cohort is that economist and social scientist Richard Florida dubbed the Creative Class. For this purpose, I’ll define them as mostly white, earning more than $75,000 and college educated.  Their exact vote is tougher to quantify, but important enough to weigh. In 2008,  the Creative Class accounted for 26% of the electorate and gave Obama 61% (about 21 million votes.) Now, Obama is polling at 55% (18 million votes.) For every percentage point drop of the total vote from the Creative Class, Obama loses nearly three million votes.

Though traditionally election campaigns have focused on convincing independent and undecided voters, it seems that this election cycle will be decided based on voter turnout of traditional supporters of both parties. Both Romney and Obama may suffer if their respective voter bases are less enthusiastic about voting than they have been in the past. Regardless of the result, the race will surely be a fascinating one to watch, and it will be interesting to see how Zogby’s voter-turnout-centered predictions play out in November.


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