By Kirk Clay
A Little Capital Goes A Long Way, Investing In Voters of Color Is A Sure Bet
The question leading up to the 2012 presidential election was whether or not the voter turnout from President Obama’s coalition of progressive whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, women, youth and unions would be at the same level as in 2008. The answer is “YES!”
Judging from the preliminary numbers, it is clear that there are a number of important states and districts in which progressive whites and Voters of Color (VOC) helped to decide election results. This election cycle, we witnessed the effect of expanding the electorate. Imagine what could happen in 2013, 2014, and 2016 if we continue to push every eligible voter to register and turnout? We could see major changes in Congress as well as state legislatures.
No longer should we portray progressive whites and VOC as incidental to the broader sphere of American politics. Their influences on the election results are validated by evidence-based demographic data which clearly demonstrates that consistently high VOC turnout levels produce reliable results. It’s also unmistakable that these turnout levels are connected to well-funded systematic political structure powered by evidence based data.
These voters lit the torch that led the Democrats to victories in races for Congress, Senate, and the White House. This isn’t just happenstance. With adequate resources, organizations began to connect the dots in late 2010. They pushed vintage campaign models for civic engagement into the 21st Century by building powerful political machines which utilized state-of-the art technology.
It is time for both parties to recognize that the future is here. The old strategy of “securing the independent voters in the last two weeks” did not pan out for many candidates this election. It seems that the strategy of expanding the electorate to include more progressive whites and VOC proved to be a much more durable foundation for building a coalition rather than relying on swing voters. President Obama dropped independents in most states like Ohio, Nevada, and New Mexico but won each state with 50%, 52%, and 53% of the vote respectfully. Even when his opponent began to gain momentum after the first debate, the President never trailed in these key states.
We believe that the pending certified results will show that voters of color made up 25% of the electorate nationally and at least 19% in 27 states– a dramatic increase from 2008. For the first time, Latinos were 10% of all voters and supported the President by 71%; African Americans were 13% of all voters and 93% voted for the incumbent, and Asians were 3% of all voters and well over 72% backed the Democrats.
On the ground, the political environment was similar to 2006 when wedge issues became a way to contrast the candidates. Just like in 2006, this strategy seems to have backfired on the GOP. Comparable to the 2006 election, the Democrats gained a foothold in the Senate by winning 80% of the competitive Senate races. They defeated moderate Senate Republicans in Hawaii, New Mexico and Virginia. They successfully defended gains from 2006 in Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Democrats won a majority of all votes cast in House races, gained eight seats in the House, gained 170 more state legislative seats nationwide and took over eight state legislative chambers including complete control of Colorado.
At the state level, progressive whites and VOC provided the momentum to help Democrats win seven of eight tossup House races in California and all three tossups in Arizona. Also, they gave the Democrats key wins in CA-36, FL-9, FL-26, and TX-23.
Nevada provides a good example of the impact that Latinos, African Americans and Asians had as the result of investing in their increased civic participation. The state already gained a congressional seat and an Electoral College vote as the result of the 2010 U.S. census which pointed to 28% of the citizen voting age population being VOC. Voters of color represented 26% of the electorate in 2008, increased to 29% in 2010 and jumped to 33% in 2012. Census data shows that places like North Las Vegas grew by 87% to 216,961 residents of which over 46,000 were key VOC.
There is no doubt that the fundamentals of elections have changed. The beneficiaries of the civil rights movement have finally gained a foothold on political equality, uniting their collective guiding beliefs. The idea that “you have to be a friend to get a friend” will continue to reveal opportunities to work together towards creating an inclusive social, cultural, and economic apparatus. The fact is, if we invest political resources in this coalition, America will experience a positive return. That’s popping the clutch.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac