Although he won re-election, the number of people who voted for President Obama shows that he did not win a mandate.
Institutionally, this was a status quo election. Voters put Obama back in the White House but decided to keep Republicans opposing him in the House of Representatives. Thanks to some poor quality candidates making flubs, the GOP ended up losing two seats in the Senate after almost everyone thought they'd gain a couple.
Unlike most other presidents in history, Barack Obama shrank his electoral majority. A look at the exit poll data, which historically has oversampled Democrats, shows this. Instead of celebrating their leader's win, 2012 ought to give liberals pause the same way that the George W. Bush victory in 2004 should have done the same for Republicans.
According to exit polls, President Obama lost a majority of independent voters to Republican challenger Mitt Romney, 50 percent to 45 percent. He and Bush share the distinction of being the only two men elected president not having won independent voters.
Nearly every demographic group surveyed has shifted rightward compared to 2008. Men shifted four points to vote for the Republican nominee. Four years ago, 49 percent of men voted for McCain. This year, 52 percent did. Even women voters shifted a single point toward the GOP.
Young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 also shifted rightward. Sixty-six percent of them voted for Obama last time compared to 60 percent in 2012. Same thing with senior citizens. Among those over 65 years of age, 56 percent voted Republican this year compared to 53 percent in 2008. All this despite non-stop attacks from the liberal media that Mitt Romney was going to destroy Social Security.
There were some groups which shifted toward the left, however. More Hispanics voted this year compared to 2008 and they voted more in favor of Obama than they did last time he ran. Four years ago, they were nine percent of the electorate, this year, they were 10 percent. Last time, 67 percent of them voted for the Democrat; in 2012, 71 percent did.
Asian voters (still a small portion of the electorate so potentially the exit polls are overstating this) saw a dramatic shift toward the Democrats. Obama got 62 percent of their vote the first time he ran, this time he got 73 percent.
The shift in both of these racial groups' vote was not what gave Obama his victory, however. It was his base. Like Bush, Obama managed to grind out a victory by getting more of his hardcore voters to the polls. The numbers have always favored Democrats on this point. For a long time, polls of people who have no intention to vote have usually shown a preference for Democrats.
Romney did very well at motivating the Republican base and also courting independents.
Unfortunately for him, the larger number of Democrats in America meant that maxing out the GOP base vote was no longer enough now that Democrat voters have begun to turn out in greater numbers.
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