YES THEY DID: Supporters of President Barack Obama celebrated his election night victory at the McCormick Place rally in Chicago on Nov. 7, 2012. Obama defeated his Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win a second term in the White House. (Photo: Zhang Jun/Newscom)
Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office for a second term sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the white male in America is over.
The long drive for broader social participation by all Americans reached a turning point in the 2012 election, which is likely to go down as a watershed in the nation’s social and political evolution, and not just because in some states voters approved of same-sex marriage for the first time.
On Tuesday, Obama received the votes of barely one in three white males. That, too, was historic. It almost certainly was an all-time low for the winner of a presidential election that did not include a major third-party candidate.
“We’re not in the ’50s any more,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer. “This election makes it clear that a single focus directed at white males, or at the white population in general, is not going to do it. And it’s not going to do it when the other party is focusing on energizing everybody else.”
How Obama Won
Exit-poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was four percentage points lower than 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was two percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.
The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young, undocumented immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign.
The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian-American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly three-to-one. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Although a far smaller group, gay voters went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)
“Obama lost a lot of votes among whites,” said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist. “It was only because of high black turnout and the highest Latino turnout ever for a Democratic president that he won.”
Obama planted his base in an America that is inexorably becoming more diverse. Unchecked by Republicans, these demographic trends would give the Democrats a significant edge in future presidential elections.
But, despite opposition from conservative religious movements, President Obama captured the votes of 30 percent of white evangelicals. What’s more, he once again won the Catholic vote — which some attribute to his strong support among Hispanic Catholics.
The Latino Effect
GOP SAVIOR: The Republican Party is counting on emerging superstars like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to broaden its base. Rubio is a Latino conservative who supports immigration reform.
Latinos were an essential element of Obama’s victories in the battlegrounds of Nevada and Colorado. States once considered reliably Republican in presidential elections will likely become highly competitive because of burgeoning Latino populations, sometimes in combination with large black populations. North Carolina, where Obama won narrowly in 2008 and came close this time, is one. The Deep South state of Georgia is another. Texas and Arizona in the Southwest are future swing states, by 2020, if not sooner.
Besides demography, Obama had another edge: the superiority of the voter-tracking operation that his campaign built over the last six years, which generated increased turnout on Tuesday among young people and unmarried women.
“That was pure machinery. Hats off to them,” said Republican strategist Sara Fagen, a former Bush White House political aide. “Our party has a lot to learn and needs to invest very serious resources in improving our own machinery.”
But Democrats Have a White Problem
The election was not an unblemished success for Democrats, who face a potentially serious threat from the loss of white votes. “I don’t think you can be a major party and get down to support approaching only a third of the white population,” said demographer Frey. “In some ways, maybe, Obama dodged a bullet here. If the Republicans had made a little bit of an effort toward minorities and kept their focus on whites, they might have won.
Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster, said that with Obama having run his last race, “we’ll have demographics working for us, but it is not going to be so easy to keep it patched tight. It’s going to fray.”
Without Obama on the ticket, socially conservative black voters might have been more inclined to follow the urgings of their ministers, who asked them to stay home to protest the Democrats’ endorsement of gay marriage.
But the Republican Party’s problems are more immediate, and much tougher to solve. Some GOP strategists have been warning for years about the risks of hitching the party’s fortunes to a shrinking share of the electorate.
What Should Republicans Do?
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who combines a tea-party pedigree with Latino heritage, said in a post-election statement that “the conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them.”
Al Cardenas, a leading Republican fundraiser, said his party is “out of step with the demographic challenges of today.” Like Rubio, the Cuban-born Cardenas is close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has long sought to broaden the party’s appeal to Latino voters and will be a prominent voice in the debate over the party’s future.
Romney’s chances ultimately depended on his ability to turn out a bigger white vote against Obama than Republican nominees received in earlier races. Eight years ago, Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, defeated Democrat John Kerry by 17 percentage points among white voters and won re-election. Romney took the white vote by 20 percentage points and lost.
The difference: despite an aggressive voter-mobilization effort, the white share of the electorate has fallen to 72 percent, from 74 percent in 2008 and 77 percent in 2004.
What It Means
Viewed narrowly, this week’s election essentially left Washington untouched. A Democratic president will continue to battle a divided Congress. Within the halls of the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate, the balance of partisan power scarcely budged at all.
But pull back and a very different picture emerges. The civil rights, women’s and gay rights movements, designed to allow others to reach for power previously grasped only by white men, have made a real difference, and the outlines of 21st century America have emerged.
For more on how shifting demographics are changing the church, check out “The Culture Clasher,” our earlier interview with author Soong-Chan Rah, and “The Future Is Mestizo” by Duke Divinity School scholar Chris Rice.
© 2012 Tribune Co. Distributed by MCT Information Services. Used by arrangement with Newscom. Maeve Reston of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
BABY SHIFT: Is it time to rethink our concept of racial minorities?
Ding, ding, ding! The United States has hit a new demographic milestone. According to a May 17 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, slightly more than half (50.4 percent) of the population younger than one year old was “minority”as of July 1, 2011. In 2010, 49.5 percent of babies were members of a group the bureau describes as “other than non-Hispanic white alone.”
Overall, there were 114 million people of color in the U.S. in 2011. That is 36.6 percent of the population, a half-percent increase from 2010. Hispanics were the most populous group at 52 million; African-Americans were second at 43.9 million; there were 18.2 million Asians, 6.3 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 1.4 million Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders. Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, and Texas were “majority-minority” in 2011.
What People Are Saying About This Milestone
At CNN, Rinku Sen, publisher of Colorlines.com, argued that the milestone means it’s time to stop describing people of color as “minorities.” “The term ‘people of color’ has deep historical roots, not to be confused with the pejorative ‘colored people,'” Sen said. “‘People of color’ was first used in the French West Indies to indicate people of African descent who were not enslaved as “gens de couleur libre,” or ‘free people of color,’ and scholars have found references to the term in English dating back to the early 1800’s. American racial justice activists, influenced by Franz Fanon, picked up the term in the late 1970s and began to use it widely by the early 80s.”
At National Review, Hoover Institution fellow Thomas Sowell said, “It means that minorities who traditionally vote overwhelmingly for Democrats can ensure that the country veers ever further to the left over the years, making America more like the welfare states of Europe, whose unsustainable spending led ultimately to financial crises and widespread riots.”
“When they grow up, all these little brown babies will be working hard to pay for the Medicare and Social Security benefits of a whole lot of old white people like me,” wrote cartoonist David Horsey at The Los Angeles Times. “It might be a good idea, then, for us all to pay more attention to the quality of K-12 education these youngsters will be getting and make sure they are ready and able to access higher education.”
At Slate, Brian Palmer provided a brief history of the federal government’s race classification systems. As to the current categories, he said they were designed in the 1970s to “track discrimination” and “officials from the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for maintaining the nation’s racial-classification system, have always admitted that the categories have no scientific or anthropological basis.”
“Demography is not destiny,” Sowell concluded at National Review. But, he said, “Our whole educational system, from the elementary schools to the universities, is permeated with ideologies of group grievances and resentments, painting each group into the corner of its own separate subculture instead of drawing it into the mainstream of the American culture that made this the greatest nation on earth. Unless this fashionable balkanization is stopped, demography can become destiny — and a tragedy for all.”
Radio host Jay Smooth, meanwhile, advised white people to stop freaking out about the demographic shift at AnimalNewYork.com. I wonder what he would advise Sowell, who is black.
What do you think?
What does this demographic shift mean for the future?
NEW YORK PRIDE: Marchers in the weekend NYC Gay Pride Parade celebrated New York's legalization of same-sex marriage.
Calls and emails to numerous New York clergy went unanswered over the weekend as Urban Faith sought reaction to the passage of a bill that makes same-sex marriage legal in the state. Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law after it was passed by the Republican-led state senate Friday.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) told the Wall Street Journal the move was a “disaster for the Republican party,” and said NOM will spend $2 million to defeat legislators who voted for it.
Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree was widely criticized last week for speaking out in opposition to the bill in a video for NOM. Tyree said it is “doing God an injustice by not making his heart known” on the issue, and was especially taken to task for suggesting that if a gay marriage bill passes in New York, it will be “the beginning of our country sliding toward … anarchy.
In some truly disheartening relationship news, a new Pew Research Center study indicates that while only 9 percent of Americans said more interracial relationships are bad for society, 16 percent of white evangelicals did and 13 percent of white mainline Protestants, Christianity Today reported.
“The views of white Christians stand in stark contrast to two other groups: black Protestants and those with no religion. Only 3 percent of either group said interracial marriage was bad for society. Eight-in-ten respondents said the trend ‘doesn’t make much difference.’ Those who are not religious were more optimistic, with 38 percent saying it was good for society,” the article said.
Meanwhile, Terry Shropshire began a Rollingout.com review of Ralph Richard Banks’ new book Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone with this stinging rebuke:
“Malcolm X once warned African Americans that no one can exploit and hate on black people with the dexterity, efficiency and ruthlessness as other blacks. Case in point: a black Stanford law professor is gainfully profiteering off the collective marriage misery of middle-class African American women with a blog-level, contemptible book.”
The book advises black women to find love by marrying white men.
“While some intelligent points were sprinkled into the book at irregular intervals, overall, it answers none of the questions and relies on haphazard, shabby research and unsubstantiated theories wrapped in hollow, sophisticated rhetoric to make you give it a good look,” Shropshire concluded.
In other news, black leaders met last week in Washington to call for an end to the 40 year war on drugs, the Seattle Medium reported.
“This is a crime against humanity. [The] War on drugs is a war on Black and Brown and must be challenged by the highest levels of our government in the war for justice,” keynote speaker Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. told more than 200 people gathered at the Institute of the Black World event, the statistic and solution filled article said.
Among the statistics cited were these: “African-Americans are 62 percent of drug offenders sent to state prisons, yet they represent only 12 percent of the U. S. population” and “black men are sent to state prisons on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.”
Among the solutions offered are these: “Ask Congress to create new and fully-funded drug treatment facilities rather than more prisons,” and “Encourage and support religious leaders to assist incarcerated persons and providing community and moral leadership.”
In related news, dark-skinned black women receive considerably harsher sentences than light-skinned black women in the North Carolina prison system, a new study conducted by researchers at Villanova University found.
“Black women who were perceived to have a light skin tone were sentenced to considerably more lenient sentences, roughly 12 percent less time in prison than those with a dark skin tone,” The Grio reported.
“The current study adds to a growing body of colorism research that underscores the complexity of racism in our society,” one of its authors told the outlet.
One can only hope that shifting demographic realities will erase this prejudice.
A preview of the final 2010 census report indicates that minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S. for the first time, but it also reveals that more African-American households are now headed by women — mostly single mothers — than by married couples, the Associated Press reported.
“Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury,” the article said.
Perhaps when that happens undocumented immigrants like Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas will have an easier path to citizenship. In a first-person essay in the New York Times, Vargas told his story of being sent from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in the United States when he was 12 years old. He described how his grandfather, educators, and employers at The Washington Post and The Huffington Post helped him keep his secret. Media critic Jack Shafer questioned the ethics of Vargas’ actions first on Twitter, then in his column at Slate.
All these stories involve complex spiritual and moral challenges that the church must continue to wrestle with. What is the appropriate Christian response to the legalization of gay marriage, to the 40-year “war on drugs,” to colorism, to African American marriage prospects and disheartening statistics, and to the plight of undocumented immigrants?