The time has come for us to start concerning ourselves with how people will vote in 2012. I’ve noticed a fair amount of panic setting in online. Who hasn’t read this blog comment/tweet: "The Dems better get it together and get out the vote!"? It’s understandable given what happened in 2010. It’s important to remember, however, that 2010 was not a National Election. 2010 was 50 elections, and each State Democratic Party was responsible for their own GOTV efforts. I’m lucky to live in a safe blue State with a very strong Party apparatus that had a very good strategy revolving around one sub-group of voters referred to as ‘lazy voters’. We spent every single day leading up to the election reaching out to lazy voters, not to the exclusion of all others, but as a primary focus. We were successful on the Federal level and had mixed results on the State and local level. Far too many State races came down to fewer than 200 votes.
2012 will be completely different. Presidential elections are the headline election that many more people pay attention to as voters. Plus it is the one race that is not decided by the popular vote. There is only one thing that matters in the Presidential race: The Electoral College. 270 votes. When it comes to wondering if the President will win reelection, it honestly doesn’t even matter who the opponent is; all that matters is how do we get 270 Electoral College votes.
The White Male Vote
Much of the concern I encounter being expressed about how and if people will vote centers on the white male vote, with lots of chatter about white males not voting, voting for a third party, voting for Ron Paul or Nader, etc. It occurs to me that in this country we are programmed to believe that what white males want is more important than what any other demographic wants. Advertisers work harder to seek out their dollars; they’re paid more; their opinions are given more weight in the world of politics. Hence we care more about whether or not they vote. But should we? Is it in our best interest as advocates of the President to care more about the white male vote than any other vote?
60.7 million men voted in 2008 41% or 24.6 million of them voted for Obama. White male voters represent 35% of the total vote received by our President in 2008. I think it is safe to assume that a vast majority of those Obama voters are registered Democrats. I speak with white male Democrats frequently and they gripe about the President’s policies and decisions and how they think things should be done differently, but once they’re done with their rant they add: Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to vote for the guy. Why? Because they’re Democrats; they believe in the Democratic Party and they want to win.
A goodly number of these white males are Independents, too. I’m no authority on Independents, but I’ve seen two basic varieties thus far: partisans and non-partisans. I was a partisan independent for most of my adult life. I didn’t decide to call myself a Democrat until I saw Senator Barack Obama on television one day. But I’ve voted a straight Democratic ticket since my first ballot in 1968. Partisan Independents have strong feelings about candidates and issues, but equally strong feelings about not being part of a political Party. Non-partisan Independents are a whole other breed of fish. They are all over the map and pretty much nobody really knows what makes them tick. Their reasons for voting range from studying the issues and candidates, to simply liking the name on the ballot. The Independent white males who voted for Obama surely had a variety of reasons for making that choice, most of which, I suspect, were based on some thought, since voting for the Black guy cannot have been a frivolous decision. Another sizable segment of the white male Obama voter came from youth. The youth vote was the secret weapon of the Obama campaign. 54% of the young white vote went to Obama in 2008, when no Democratic candidate in the previous three decades had ever managed to get more than 45%. Lastly, white male Republicans represented part of the ultimate total.
I don’t want to take the white male voter for granted by any means. We need their votes, and I’m willing to work for them. It’s the white male voters who make noise about not voting for the President, and the white male non-voters who insist that voting doesn’t work who garner all the attention. Attention that is absolutely not warranted, and giving them attention detracts from work of chasing the gettable votes from other demographics. Focusing on the professed non-voter is a complete waste of time and energy. They have every argument in the book ready and at hand to support their belief that voting doesn’t work. This puts them in the same category as a Fox News junkie: intractability and dependence upon a pre-packaged set of talking points. They are simply not going to vote in the next General Election. Walk away.
The white males who claim they are liberals and say they want to vote for someone other than the President are equally unworthy of our attention. I know why it bothers people so much: Nader in 2000. I’m guilty of arguing that people in Florida who voted for Nader share responsibility for Bush’s election, but I’m beginning to reform that stance and say it’s time we let that go. Nader is a non-factor now. In 2000 he received 2,882,955 votes as the Green Party candidate. In 2004 he received 465,650 votes as an Independent, and in 2008 he received 738,475 as an Independent. My feeling is that 2000 was an anomaly and he will never enjoy that kind of popularity again. As for Ron Paul, who is trying to sweep up the disillusioned white male vote on campuses, first he has to have his name on the ballot to be a factor. Second, since he’s actively tried to seek the Republican nomination, anyone who is buying into his shtick can be labeled a Republican. If Paul does run as an Independent, the people who vote for him never would have voted for the President anyway. Chasing the votes of white male Ron Paul supporters is a big a waste of time as chasing votes from Tea Party supporters. So yes, some of the people who are engaged in perpetual protesting (Occupy ‘movement’) are Libertarians and are more closely aligned with Ron Paul’s vision for America. Big deal. They would be anyway even if the Occupy ‘movement’ never happened.
I chose to look at this the way the Obama campaign does: 270. Take one example: California. In 2008 Ralph Nader received 108,381 votes in California, by far his largest support base. Senator Obama received 8,274,473 votes and all 55 Electoral Votes. In reality most of the Independent Candidates who made it to the 2008 ballot drew off voters from McCain, not Obama. Even in 2000 nearly 40% of Nader voters said they would have voted for Bush had Nader not been on the ballot.
While this is a National election, Electoral votes are allotted on a State by State basis. If we’re going to be effective as vote chasers, we need to think strategically about how to help accumulate those 270 Electoral votes. I’m suggesting that we completely ignore all the independent candidates who we think might siphon off votes from the President and focus on the people who are most likely to 1) vote and 2) vote for the President.
According to the Census Bureau 70.4 million women voted in 2008. That’s ten million more voters than the male demographic. Think about that TEN MILLION more voters. Women vote. Among white women, the preference was for the McCain ticket, but African American women voted in greater numbers than previously. Non-white women overall preferred Obama. My theory on persuading women to vote in this election is that change won’t be the driving force. The economy, then as now, is the tangible, but the future, as an intangible, will have more influence over women in general. In 2008 people wanted something different than President Bush. Change was on everyone’s mind. The President inherited all manner of crises that needed to be dealt with. I remember people saying back then that there were so many fires to put out that the President wouldn’t be able to focus on any of his agenda. But now, by and large, many of the in our face predicaments we as a Nation had to confront have been resolved to the extent that we can now focus on domestic policies. The last soldier is about to leave Iraq, the banks, while still a source of simmering anger, aren’t on the precipice of collapse, the American economy appears to be well and truly on the mend. That sense of urgency has dissipated and we are beginning to look inward. Looking inward, we see that our education system is a mess, our infrastructure is in trouble and our safety net is being threatened by extremists. These are issues that matter to women because they speak to our future and our ability to care for our children and our parents and our basic safety.
As vote chasers, we can highlight these issues for women as persuasion talking points. We can ask a woman what future does she want for her children or grandchildren? Does she want them to have the same advantage of a free public K-12 education? Does she want the bridges she crosses with her children every day to be safe? Does she want her parents or grandparents to be financially secure? We can make the case that President Obama is looking out for the vulnerable people in society and wants our children to be the best educated in the world. These are votes we can get.
African American Voters
Republicans know full well that the President still enjoys nearly 100% support from the African American voting block. This is why they are working so hard to make it difficult for AAs to vote. Chasing these votes means helping assure that every individual in that community who wants to vote is able to vote. Whether it is helping to pay the cost of getting a birth certificate to get an ID, or any other aspect of dealing with the hurdles being placed before the African American voter, we must be prepared to do whatever it takes, day in and day out, to overcome these challenges to all Americans’ fundamental right to vote. This applies to other minorities who are being targeted, most notably Latinos. In my mind, as long as we stay focused on each individual State’s requirements and don’t allow ourselves to panic or become overwhelmed, this is doable.
I think the youth vote is going to surprise us in the minority communities. 40% of all voting age people under 30 in this country are non-white. I think of all the statistics to come from the 2010 Census, this has got to be the one that frightens the Republicans the most. The non-white under 30 generation is the one demographic the GOP has utterly failed to reach as a result of their extreme social and anti-immigration policies. The President has excelled at reaching out to this population.
Social Security. Medicare. Social Security. Medicare. Social Security. Medicare. Get the point? Driving home the point that the GOP wants to destroy the social safety net is a proven winner. Entitlement cuts scare people. Seniors have been hopping mad about not getting a COLA the last two years. It’s refreshing to see that there is a COLA increase for 2012. The other side of the story is that this election is a generational shift. It is about how we want to proceed as a Nation. Look to seniors to find these changes upsetting and for there to be some resistance to the inevitable shift toward the priorities of youth. The threat of entitlement cuts and generational shifts make for insecurity and uncertainty. Convincing Seniors that they’ll be safer by staying the course with an established leader is one way to go about reassuring the 65+ crowd that our President is the logical choice. This is one demographic where who the Republican nominee turns out to be will make a difference. Seniors vote, in greater numbers than before, and we will do well to tread lightly with this demographic. I’m going to wait for guidance from the campaign and adopt their strategy. I imagine it will look remarkably like good old fashioned common sense, which goes a long way with the 65+ crowd.
The key, as always, is voter registration and getting out the vote. Obama for America was brilliant at this in 2008 and I expect the same to be true in 2012. The President has his own unique way of reaching various demographics in this country. White men like his vision for America, and they like his passion for sports. The white male who doesn’t watch politics, but watches and reads about sports sees stuff like this:
Great day. Just met President Obama. So down to earth, loves ball. Heading back to Allen to get to work. Gameday. See you guys at 8.— Bill Self (@CoachBillSelf) December 06, 2011And sees the President on ESPN picking his NCAA bracket. Can anyone imagine Romney or Gingrich doing that? Romney might make fun of the President’s rounds of golf, but he does so at the expense of alienating millions of golfers. Sports just aren’t in their wheelhouses. Unlike McCain, neither have any military experience; both of them avoided service with deferments. As a bonding mechanism, sports can be very effective, and the President has that base covered. He’s not going to overcome the inclination for white males to vote Republican with male bonding, but I believe he has significantly altered the perception that he is an elitist and maybe even taken off the edge of the ‘other’ label with a lot of average American men.
The President has a natural affinity for young people and they love him. Pundits love to portray youth as being disaffected, but I’m not seeing it. Ron Paul can troll campuses for acolytes, but how can he compete with our local Summer Organizer who created a registration system that registered 1000 new voters on campus before the local election last month? The young Fall Fellow who is there now has far greater reach and influence with these students than Ron Paul could ever have.
The President’s secret weapon with women is his wife. Men claim to be values voters, but its women who are the real values voters. They see a stable, strong and healthy family in the White House. They see the First Lady on their magazine covers, looking radiant and speaking openly about her family.
If Gingrich is the nominee (who knows with these people?), then look for family values to figure heavily with Seniors as well.
When it comes to the minority vote, the President has one huge advantage: he isn’t afraid of any minority. Unlike Romney or Gingrich, he’s not afraid of little Black kids, or Muslims, or old people or disabled people or the poor, or Gays, or people in pain. He’s not afraid of any question from any journalist, ever. People notice that about him. He loves children; and don’t think for a minute that women don’t know that on a visceral level. We are all Americans to him and he cares about every single one of us, even the ones who hate him. And to top it off, people just plain like the guy.
I’ll add two more big ticket items in the plus column: Nobody on the planet gives a better speech. And oh yeah, he got Osama bin Laden.
So, fellow vote chasers, rejoice. Let go of your worries about the whiners and complainers and the perpetual protesters who claim proudly they’re not going to vote for our magnificent President. For every one of them, there are thousands and thousands and thousands who will vote for him. All we have to do is ask.