December 6, 2012

The changing face of southern politics

Chris Kromm, Facing South - It's important to remember that  the winner-take-all view of red and blue states obscures the South's political reality, which remains deeply purple.

You'd hardly know it from the media frenzy about secession petitions, but in 2012 18.6 million Southerners in 13 states voted for President Obama -- about 45 percent of Southern voters -- compared to 22.6 million for Romney.

And while it's true that Obama's approval ratings lagged the most in Southern states heading into the elections, by Election Day the president's share of the vote in Southern states had dropped by only 1.5 points between 2008 and 2012 -- almost identical to Obama's decline in votes nationally.

But the fact remains that Obama only won two out of the 13 Southern states. So the question remains: What impact did demographic change have in the 2012 elections in the South? And what political clout does the new, emerging majority in the South really have?

The biggest changes have happened in Florida. According to the exit polls, the number of Florida voters who didn't identify as white grew from 29 percent in 2008 to 34 percent in 2012. That closely parallels the increase in Floridians who marked a race or ethnicity other than white on their voter registration forms -- a 4 percent increase over the same time period.

The increasing racial diversity of the electorate was clearly critical to Obama's victory in Florida in 2012, which he won by less than one point. In such a tight race, winning big margins among African-American voters (95 percent), Latinos (60 percent) and those who identified their race/ethnicity as "other" (59 percent) was decisive.

In 2012, Virginia also ended up falling into Obama's column, but according to the exit poll figures (the only data we have to work with now, because the state doesn't collect voter registration information by race), it wasn't due to a big change in the electorate since 2008. For every racial/ethnic group, the share of the state's voters stayed the same: 70 percent identifying as white, and 30 percent African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Asian-American or other.

While Obama's support among white Virginia voters fell from 39 to 37 percent in the four years since 2008, it was again the high support among African-Americans (93 percent), Latinos (64 percent) and Asian-Americans (66 percent) that propelled him to victory.

And what about North Carolina? Both exit polls and voter registration figures show that the share of white voters declined by two points between 2008 and 2012. Like Florida, the N.C. exit polls showed the share of African-American voters holding steady (which echoes N.C. voter registration statistics), with growth coming mostly from Latino/Hispanic voters.

What's the upshot? The Southern electorate is clearly changing -- in different ways and at varying speeds depending on where you look, but undeniably changing. And while this analysis only looks at three states, these are trends unfolding in every Southern state.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its simple; most southern states are welfare states.