Friday, May 24, 2013

9 interesting facts about the past 36 years of presidential elections

Mitt Romney = least bipartisan appeal since, at least, 1976 (photo: Iowapolitics)

The Roper Center of Public Opinion Archives has been compiling presidential election exit polls since Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter's thrilling throwdown in 1976.

After scouring the data, here are some of the most interesting things I found.

1. Mitt Romney did worse with Democrats than any other GOP nominee since exit polling began

It turns out that Democrats weren't very fond of the "Massachusetts Moderate".

Here's how each GOP nominee has fared with Democratic voters over the past 36 years.

2012: Mitt Romney 7%
2008: John McCain 10%
2004: George W. Bush 11%
2000: George W. Bush 11%
1996: Bob Dole 10%
1992: George H.W. Bush 10%
1988: George H.W. Bush 17%
1984: Ronald Reagan 26%
1980: Ronald Reagan 27%
1976: Gerald Ford 20%


I continue to think Rick Santorum would have been utterly obliterated in a 2012 general election, but honestly, would he have done too much worse with Democrats than Romney?

Probably not, but that doesn't mean he was as electable as Romney. Independents probably wouldn't have given him a 5% win as they gave to Romney.

One more thing -- as you can see, self-described Democrats have apparently grown considerably more partisan over the years. Ford won 20% of them, and Reagan hit 26% and 27% with them.

So what's going on?

Well, there's a chance that many former Democrats are now calling themselves "independent", and that persuadable Dems of old have turned into the independents of today (a similar thing has happened with Republicans).

2. The gender gap favored George W. Bush in 2004

George W. Bush scored an 11% win over John Kerry among men, and only lost women by 3%.

Barack Obama won women by 11%.

So why the big difference?

Two possible reasons jump out.

First, the minority vote has grown considerably, and black and Hispanic women are more Democratic than black and Hispanic men. Thus, women as a whole are getting more Democratic. (As I wrote last week, the GOP still crushes Democrats among white women, but the share of white women as part of the voting electorate has fallen).

So ethnic demography probably plays a big role in GOP slippage with women.

Another possible suspect?

Americans were unusually concerned over foreign threats in 2004, and that trepidation seemed to have birthed a new, ephemeral and Republican-friendly demographic, the "Security Mom," which Bush capitalized on.

Great Communicator = not so great at communicating with Hispanics (photo: University of Texas)

3. Reagan only won 34% of Hispanics in 1984

The GOP's greatest communicator in modern history only picked up 1/3 of Hispanics in the midst of a blowout economy and blowout election.

If that's all Reagan could manage, it's hard to see any white male doing much better than that (btw, the exit polls suggesting that Bush scored over 40% of Hispanics in 2004 were notoriously unreliable and likely overstated things in a Bush skew. Experts, instead, suggest Bush won about 35% of the vote -- much like in 2000 and much like Reagan).

Thus, short of a "Hispanic Reagan" (Rubio?) it's hard to imagine a Republican holding much more appeal than Ronald himself, and he only picked up 35%, and that should be a discomforting thought for Republicans.

4. In that same vein, Reagan only won 9% of blacks in 1984

Again, Reagan -- a historically gifted communicator, in the midst of scoring one of the greatest landslides in history on the strength of a soaring, rebounding economy -- only managed 9% of blacks.

Stats like that might explain why the GOP's only made sporadic efforts to win African-American voters over the past few decades.

Let's be honest here -- would the broadest, zippiest outreach ever really produce much more than 10% of the black vote for the GOP?

The fact is that African-Americans are the most entrenched Democratic constituency out there. Only 3% of black women voted for Mitt Romney in 2012! Three percent!

That doesn't mean the GOP should totally ignore the black vote, but in politics, you have to allocate resources and target people you think you might win, and it's understandable that a campaign would shift resources toward, say, suburban Denver women than urban black Democrats.

Think about the corollary.

Do Democrats have an outreach program for white, male, Southern Baptists in Mississippi?

It's just unrealistic for the GOP to think it can wrest significant black support from the Democratic party.

Party bases are called "party bases" for a reason -- the base doesn't move.

5. The union vote -- timeless solidarity

Here's the Democratic presidential nominee's share of the union vote over the past 36 years: 58%, 59%, 59%. 59%, 60%, 55%, 57%, 54%, 48%, and 62%


Except for that brief dip during the Reagan years, union support for the Democratic presidential nominee has fluctuated only a few percentage points, when at all.

In other words, most union voters don't vote for the presidential candidate; they vote for the party, and they do it at an astonishingly consistent rate.

The problem for Democrats? As a share of the electorate, the union vote has been on decline, so that 60% means less than it used to.

Flush Ross Perot's strongest support came from lower income groups (photo: dbking)

6. Ross Perot was surprisingly popular with the poor.

In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot picked up more support from low income groups than high income groups.

In fact, his worst income groups were those making $50K-$75K and those making $75K+. In other words, he did worst in the highest two income groups.

In 1996, same story.

His best groups were those making under $50,000/year, and worst groups were those making over $50K/year.

Moral of the story?

It turns out that you can connect with poorer Americans if you've got the right accent and mien. Romney had neither.

Clinton didn't do abnormally well with black voters (photo: Getty)

7. Bill Clinton wasn't as uniquely popular with blacks as he wants you to think

Yes, Bill won blacks by big margins, but check this out -- Bob Dole won 12% of blacks in 1996, while another 4% picked Ross Perot. Thus, 16% of blacks picked someone other than Clinton.

The story was the same in 1992.

George H.W. Bush won 10% of blacks, while Ross Perot won 7%, leaving 83% for Clinton.

So how did the "first black president" do against the real "first black president" (Obama, in case you were confused)?

Well, the Republican nominee only managed 5% and 6% of the black vote against Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Yes, Clinton ran in three-way races, but that doesn't change the fact that 16% and 17% of blacks, respectively, checked a name that wasn't "Bill Clinton's" in the '90s.

Women made up 54% of voters in 2004 (photo:

8. The female vote peaked in 2004, but John Kerry lost anyway

Look at the history of presidential exit polls, and you'll find that -- as a percentage of the voting electorate -- women peaked in 2004 at 54%.

But it didn't matter, because George W.Bush did better with women in 2004 than any GOP nominee since 1988.

It's just stunning that a Democratic nominee couldn't win an election when 54% of voters were women. But that's just how good John Kerry is.

9. Asians are trending more Democratic than Hispanics

Occasionally, people will note that Barack Obama did slightly better with Asians in 2012 than he did with Hispanics.

That's interesting, but what's extra interesting is just how quickly and dramatically Asians have moved leftward compared to Hispanics.


ASIAN vote:

Look at that incredibly dramatic reversal in the Asian chart, and note that the Asian Democratic line is on a steeper ascent than the Hispanic Democratic line.

Electorally, the Asian vote isn't terribly significant -- it made up just 3% of voters in 2012. BUT... the fact that they're yet another minority that's skewing further and further to the Left should be concerning for Republicans.