The conventional wisdom after Wednesday’s election is that , while President Barack Obama may have won the election, he has a big problem with white voters. But a more in-depth look at the exit polls reveals that “white problem” is limited to traditionally Republican states where Democrats have not performed well for decades.
In the key Rust Belt states that pushed Obama to victory, the president out-performed his national average with white voters. Those numbers helps explain why Obama wiped out Mitt Romney in the Electoral College, despite a narrow lead in the popular vote.
Nationally, Obama won just 39% of the white vote, down from 43% in 2008. But in every Rust Belt battleground — Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — Obama performed well above average with white voters.
In Ohio, Obama won 41% of the white vote. In Wisconsin, an astounding 48%. In Iowa, he actually captured the white vote with 51% to Romney’s 47%. In Michigan, it was 44%, and in Pennsylvania, it was 42%.
There is some anecdotal evidence that the auto bailout played a role in some of these victories. In Ohio exit polling, for example, more than half of voters said they favoured the auto bailout, and about three-quarters of those voters voted for Obama. In Wisconsin, more than half of voters also supported the bailout. In Michigan, voters said they trusted Obama more than Romney on handling the economy, and six in 10 voters who said jobs were their most important concern voted for Obama.
Obama losses among white voters came primarily from the South, in Republican strongholds that Obama was already expected to lose. In Missouri, for example, the president won only 32% of whites, down from 42% in 2008. In Virginia and Florida, he won only 37% of the white vote, down from 39% and 42%, respectively. In North Carolina, Obama only managed to capture 31% of white voters, down four points from 2008. In other parts of the Republican-heavy South — South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, for example — the numbers were even worse.
In the end, it was Republicans who had a demographic problem with the electorate. Obama still managed to capture two of the southern battleground states (Virginia and Florida) because of a broad coalition of minority support. While Obama did lose some support from white voters in the Midwestern Rust Belt states, the problem wasn’t nearly as bad as the one Republicans had with minority voters across the map.
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