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Michael Barone’s demographic post-mortem of Election ’08

Monday, November 17, 2008
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HH: Joined now by one of the country’s preeminent political analysts, Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report. Michael, good to talk with you. George Bush went from a three million vote win, and then Barack Obama won by six and a half million. Who were those ten million votes that swung around, Michael Barone? What demographics? Where were they in the country? And why did it happen?

MB: Well, one of the demographics that swung around most noticeably was young voters, Hugh. Obama carried young voters 66-32%, and any Republican who hopes that his party is going to win future elections has got to get a little bit of a chill down his spine with those numbers. The rest of the electorate over thirty only went 50-49% for Obama. So basically, my retrospective advice to the McCain campaign is they should have passed a Constitutional amendment raising the voting age to 35. And the fact is, we’re going to have these young voters with us, and I think Republicans and conservatives who want to win in the future are going to have to figure out a way to get their votes back. We also saw, we didn’t see a huge surge or increase in the number of young voters, but those that did vote voted a lot differently from the young voters of four years ago. We also saw significant increase in African-American turnout, and some percentage for Obama in those numbers. And we saw in addition, you know, Republicans staying home. I mean, I’ve been looking at, pawing through returns of states like your home state of Ohio, and what I see is in county after county, there’s a pattern of McCain getting about the same number of votes as Bush four years ago, a little fewer, and Obama getting quite a lot more votes than John Kerry did. And some of those people, I think, can be accounted for by the Obama organizational campaign. In states that were not target states in ’04, you see big increases in the Democratic vote, particularly in fast-growing areas, affluent areas, places like North Carolina, Indiana, both new target states. My speculation, and it’s anecdotal at this point, is that in those affluent counties, homeowners and investors that saw their wealth sharply diminish with a Republican president lashed out at the Republicans to some extent. We saw some of that against Bush 41 in 1992. And I think this year, we saw a lot of 18 year old 12th graders.

HH: Tell me something, Michael Barone, in terms of whatever data, anecdotal or comprehensive you’ve been able to see, what motivated that young voting cohort to break so decisively for Obama? Can you put your finger on it yet?

MB: Well, I think number one, George Bush, unlike Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, did not attract young voters to his party, and we can speculate on the reasons for that, clearly did not. Number two, young voters don’t remember the 1970s. Voters, even the median age voter, was not behind a steering wheel of a car waiting for an hour in a gas line to pump his car full of gasoline. They don’t remember the stagflation, how to pay bills when your wages aren’t going up and your bills are going up every month, and interest rates, mortgages are at 19%. So I think these people, I don’t think they’re necessarily demanding big government, but they’re open to it in a way that older Americans aren’t.

HH: Does that suggest it’s a self-correcting problem, though, because if in fact Democratic policies produce those kinds of results, and it’s a big if, but assume for a moment it does, are they educable in terms of the consequences of high tax-low growth policies?

MB: I think they are, although we’ve got to concede that your if is an if. I mean, for people like you and me, we don’t take much convincing that higher taxes on high earners and more protectionism, Herbert Hoover’s policies in the 1930s are going to put a crimp on economic growth. Young voters don’t enter with that conviction now. At least most of them don’t. And we are in a kind of unprecedented economic situation. But yeah, I think they are open, and one of the things that fascinates me about this election year, I think there was more shifting around of opinion in response to events, to unpredicted and unexpected events than we usually see in presidential cycles. It’s a year I call open field politics, and we saw when voters came to appreciate the success of the surge in Iraq, when they saw $4 dollar a gallon gasoline, opinion shifted toward Republicans. When they saw the financial meltdown and the response of the two candidates to it, opinion shifted towards the Democrats.

HH: Thirty seconds, Michael, did the Republicans lose a lot of Latino voters?

MB: Yeah. The number of Latino voters increased not greatly, but the percentages for Republicans were down, 44% in the exit poll in ’04. Some people think that number is a little high, but you’re down to about 33-32% right now, and that’s a big problem out West.

HH: Michael Barone from U.S. News & World Report, looking forward to the next edition of the Almanac of American Politics.

End of interview.

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