Dr. Lesperance: A Crumbling Coalition

In less than 80 days, New Hampshire voters will head to the polls to cast a ballot for their party’s nominee for President of the United States. While Republican candidates have a long road ahead before their nominee emerges, Democrats can take some satisfaction in already knowing who will represent them in the general election. President Barack Obama, unopposed in the primary process, has a significant advantage as the incumbent candidate, as someone likely to raise a billion dollars for this election, and as the sitting President who has the megaphone that comes with the bully pulpit of the White House. 

And yet, President Obama is beatable. The fact is the Obama coalition, consisting of African Americans, Hispanics, and young voters, has crumbled.  

Today, support for the President among these groups has waned. There are a number of reasons for the breakup of the coalition. No reason is more important, however, than the impact the economy has had on these individual groups.  

In 2008, 95 percent of African-American voters supported President Obama. While the percentage level of support for the Democratic candidate is only marginally better than historical averages, the number of voters who turned out was significantly higher. In 2004, black voters turned out at 11 percent; in 2008, turnout was over 13 percent.   

The impact of the current economic crisis has been particularly bad for African-Americans.  Unemployment has remained static at under 16 percent compared to the 9 percent national unemployment average.  Home ownership has also been disproportionately affected with the risk of imminent foreclosure topping 21 percent. 

Among the more compelling stories of the 2008 election, was the turnout by Hispanic voters for Obama. In that election, 67 percent of Hispanics supported Obama compared to 31 percent for McCain; an 11 percent increase in support of the Democratic candidate when compared to the 2004 election results.   

As a result of the economic downturn, Hispanics, like African-Americans have been more adversely affected than white voters. Unemployment for Hispanics is at 11.3 percent. Hispanics also face a high risk of imminent foreclosure at 21.5 percent. Perhaps most telling, however, is the wealth gap that has grown since 2009. In that year, the Pew Research Center reported that inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66 percent among Hispanic housefuls, 53 percent among black households, compared to the 16 percent loss in white households.  In other words, the economic crisis has caused much greater harm to Hispanic and African-American households.  

The final segment of the Obama coalition is the young voter demographic. 18-24 year olds voted for Obama over McCain at 68 to 30 percent. Indeed, as a result of an effective campaign strategy to engage young voters, turnout among this demographic reached its second highest level in history.  

Finding economic data for this age group is a bit more difficult than for those above. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), for example, does not collect this data. However, the BLS has identified unemployment levels for 25-34 year olds at 9.7 percent Other sources have estimated unemployment among recent college graduates at 22.4 percent And for those who have found employment, 22 percent are working in jobs that do not require college degrees.  

At the end of the day, the data reads ominously for the President’s chances at reelection. 2008 was a good year for Obama. His team managed to form a coalition of voters that propelled him to victory. They were also able to convince groups like African-Americans and young voters to turnout in unprecedented numbers. Looking ahead to 2012, members of the Obama coalition have fared much worse in the economy than other demographics. Perhaps the silver lining in these otherwise dismal numbers is that the Republicans have yet to select their nominee and, for the moment at least, there has yet to emerge a candidate that looks ready to take on the President.

Dr. Wayne F. Lesperance, Jr.

Professor of Political Science

New England College 

Author: Dr. Wayne Lesperance

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