New York Times pollster Nate Silver was very accurate in his predictions throughout the election, and stated all along that Barack Obama was going to win. The 2012 election was only contested in about ten “swing states” such as Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Florida and Nevada. He did not contest the election at all in most of the South, except for Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, and basically conceded states like Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Oklahoma to Romney. In all of those Red States, the white voters overwhelmingly support the Republicans, especially against a black president, and there was no surprise when they were called relatively early for Romney. Obama started out this election with the Northeastern states already in his column, from Maine to Maryland, as well as the West Coast states of California, Washington and Oregon. Most of the Midwest except for Indiana usually votes for the Democrats, although Romney thought he might have a chance in Ohio. In this region, the popularity of Obama’s bailout of the auto industry proved popular with white working class voters, even though he only won about 40% of the white vote nationwide. His overwhelming margins among black and Hispanic voters also helped him carry New Mexico, and the swing states of Colorado, Nevada and Florida. Obama’s victory was slightly narrower than in 2008, with only 52% of the vote to Romney’s 48%, and since there were over eight million fewer voters, both candidates had lower totals overall than in 2008. Nevertheless, Obama carried every state that he won four years ago, except Indiana and North Carolina, and in the latter he came close to winning again. Another big surprise in the 2012 election was that the Republicans did not win control of the Senate but actually lost seats.
Almost all of the election coverage in the media focused on the swing states, as did both campaigns. Romney did well in West Virginia, Kentucky and southwest Virginia, all of which are heavily dependent on coal mining and oppose Obama’s environmental policies. This was not enough for Romney to win in Virginia, however, since Obama won in Richmond and in the heavily Democratic areas in the northern part of the state, such as Fairfax County. Silver predicted that Obama would also win in Florida by a margin of about 1% and this turned out to be correct, since his lead in Tampa, Miami and Orlando overcame Romney’s advantage in the rural areas and the northern region of the state. As in every other state, the black and Hispanic vote strongly favored Obama, and he even came close to winning a majority of Cuban-Americans, who were once a highly reliable Republican constituency. This was similar to the situation in Colorado, where Obama won because of high vote totals in Denver and Boulder, as well as Hispanic voters, and in Nevada where he carried Clark County and Las Vegas, while Romney did best in the rural areas. In Ohio, as in other Midwestern states, Obama’s rescue of the U.S. auto industry was highly popular with workers, and his vote totals in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Akron were sufficient to win the state by a relatively narrow margin. As Silver had predicted all along, Obama carried every other state in the Midwest except Indiana.
Silver found that 45% of Obama’s voters were black and Hispanic, and that both groups supported him in record numbers. So did women, by a margin of 55-45%, which overcame the Republican’s advantage with white men. Obama did very well among voters under age thirty while the Republicans were strongest among those sixty and over. Republican statements about hostility to immigrants and immigration reform legislation cost them badly among Hispanic voters, while their position on healthcare, abortion and birth control alienated many women, especially single women. This was particularly costly to the Republicans in key Senate races in Indiana and Missouri, where the Republican candidates stated that abortion should be denied even to women who were victims of rape and incest. Romney’s comments about letting the auto industry go bankrupt and his speech criticizing 47% of the voters as lazy and dependent on government handouts also damaged him among white workers. Given all this, and the need to appease the base of his own party, Romney could not really pivot to the center until very late in the election and present himself as a more moderate of centrist candidate.
Unlike some other polls like Rasmussen and Gallup in this election cycle, Nate Silver was correct in predicting the outcome in all fifty states. In reality, of course, no great powers of prediction are needed in about forty of them since they fall into the reliable Red State/Blue State pattern. Obama does much better among Northerners than Southerners, for example, and this has been true for the Democrats ever since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They basically lost the Southern white vote at that time and never recovered it, and only in states like Florida or Virginia do they still have a chance of winning in presidential years, mainly because of large numbers of Northern migrants. Similarly, the republicans never win the black vote and have been during very badly in attracting Asians, Hispanics and women as well. For decades there has been a gender gap of at least ten points between the parties, and it proved particularly difficult for the Republicans in 2012. As a party, they also do better in rural areas than big cities, and among older and more religious voters, but they cannot attract religious blacks and Hispanics.
Silver, N. (2012). “Special Coverage: The 2012 Presidential Election”. New York Times, November 6, 2012.