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Analysis: Obama holds onto party's traditional groups

  • Article by: JACKIE CALMES and
  • MEGAN THEE-BRENAN New York Times
  • November 7, 2012 - 12:30 AM

In winning re-election to a second term, President Obama held onto the demographic groups that traditionally make up his party's base -- young and unmarried people, political moderates, women, blacks, Latinos, the least and most educated, city dwellers, lower-income voters and union members. Yet, he struggled with others who helped sweep him to victory in 2008.

Men, political independents, Roman Catholics and suburbanites -- who backed Obama four years ago -- this time gave more votes to Mitt Romney, according to independent nationwide surveys of voters leaving the polls and telephone interviews with some of the roughly 30 million Americans who voted early.

The president did, however, barely hold onto college graduates and mothers, groups that until 2008 were a mainstay of the Republican Party. Obama and his campaign assiduously courted both groups, just as last time. But he lost the independents who were among the most closely watched groups in the crucial swing states of Ohio and Virginia, although Florida's independents seemed divided.

Romney retained the support of most other typically Republican groups, including whites, older Americans, Southerners, rural residents, married voters, regular churchgoers and, overwhelmingly, white evangelical Christians, many of whom expressed hostility to Romney, as a Mormon, in both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Perhaps indicating their antipathy to Obama, white evangelical Christians were more supportive of Romney than they were of Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee of 2008, and roughly as supportive as they were of President George W. Bush. Romney got the votes of more whites than McCain, and, unlike McCain, he was supported by a majority of young white voters under age 30.

In short, the electorate this year looked a lot more like that of 2004, when Bush narrowly defeated Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, to win re-election, than Obama's diverse majority coalition of 2008. The shifts among major demographic groups were first seen in the 2010 midterm elections, when the Democrats lost control of the House as the economy sputtered.

Significantly, the electorate's view of the government's role in the economy has shifted, too, away from Obama's call for a kind of public-private partnership, and toward Romney's hands-off, free-market platform.

In November 2008, when the country was foundering in the worst recession since the Depression, Election Day surveys of voters found that 51 percent of them wanted government to do more to intervene while 43 percent said it was doing too many things better left to businesses. Now, after four years of government activism, those numbers have flipped.

In some states where government intervention like the auto bailout was palpable, however, Obama benefited. For example, Ohio voters overwhelmingly supported the 2009 federal aid to automakers, according to surveys of those who voted, and about three-quarters of them backed Obama.

This was no surprise: a big majority said the economy was the most important issue. Majorities of those voters and of the smaller portion who called federal budget deficits the nation's primary issue supported Romney. Obama won most voters who named foreign policy or health care as their top concern.

A bare majority still blames Obama's predecessor, Bush, more than him for the economy's lingering problems. That helps explain how the president remained a formidable contender for a second term though no modern incumbent has won re-election with an unemployment rate near 8 percent.

So, too, does the growing share of voters who view the economy's condition -- and their own -- as improving. Roughly 4 in 10 said the economy is getting better, and they overwhelmingly supported Obama, while those who said it is "staying the same" or getting worse backed Romney.

As in national polls before the election, just over half of voters said the country is on the wrong track.

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