On the surface, it appears why Obama won a second term is that he carried nearly all the 'swing states'. But the deeper question is why did he carry those swing states? The consensus of press and pundits in the days immediately following the election is Obama carried the minority, youth (18-29), and to a lesser extent the women vote. But that still doesn't answer the even more fundamental question why he carried these groups in those swing states? And Press and pundits stop at that point.
So why did Obama win the swing states? Why did he carry the minority and youth vote so convincingly? And what can those groups, who clearly put him in office for a second term, expect in return with regard to policies and programs the next four years?
To begin, the Hispanic vote clearly made the overwhelming difference in Colorado, Nevada, and, together with the black vote, in Virginia (in retrospect it probably played an important role as well in Iowa). But describing it as 'Hispanic', African-American, and even the youth vote, leaves out a more fundamental dimension: this was a 'working class vote' even though the press refuses to define it as such. That point is important, given that throughout the election campaign the past two years Obama’s team of advisers and he himself repeatedly indicated the key voting bloc that would make the difference in the election was the ‘independent voter’ and the ‘middle class’, especially the upper income urban professionals.
The minority groups that made the big difference in the swing states of Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa—especially Hispanics—represent the major force that put Obama in the White House for a second term. They are not the much heralded 'middle class' households making $100,000 a year incomes that the Obama team said was their primary target during the election campaign. Nor are they the ‘independents’ or ‘urban professionals’, who almost all earn more than $100,000, that Obama's advisers kept saying was the key to winning the White House the past two years.
71% of Hispanics voted for Obama and turned out in even greater numbers than in 2008. That bloc is solid working class, the vast majority of whom earn less than $50,000 a year. The same can be said for African-American voters who probably made the difference in Virginia, turning out big in the southeastern part of that state.
In stark contrast, the ‘independents’ and ‘urban professionals’ earning $50-$100k a year stayed home or reduced their vote for Obama. Their Obama vote fell from 52% in 2008 to 45% in 2012. Some post-election polls estimate only 24% of this group bothered to vote. So it wasn’t the independents or middle class; it was the minority working class that had the biggest impact on Obama’s re-election.
The key point that it was workers who put Obama back in office also applies to the equally important swing state of Ohio and the neighboring key states of Michigan and Wisconsin. In Ohio-Michigan-Wisconsin union workers made the difference in carrying those important states. Union labor certainly gave Obama Ohio, and just as probably prevented Michigan-Wisconsin from going Republican. In these states union workers are overwhelmingly manufacturing, construction, industrial and public employees and not ‘independents’ or ‘urban professionals’. Outside the Ohio to Wisconsin ‘arc’, however, union households’ vote for Obama fell somewhat, just as the same union households vote for Obama increased significantly in those Midwest swing states.
Yet what is heard repeatedly by the press and media pundits is that the 'working class' vote in general has gone Republican. That's only true if one believes that the millions of Hispanics, blacks, and the majority of the 18-29 working class youth, who made the key difference in several of the key states, are somehow not in fact 'working class'. Or that those voters in the key arc of Ohio-Michigan-Wisconsin, a majority of which were ‘white’ by the way, were also not working class.
So it was minority workers, young workers, and union workers in the northwest that carried the swing states that put Obama in office—and not the upper middle class, independents, and professionals. So why did they do it? And what can they expect in return from Obama during his second term?
First, despite deporting more undocumented workers than George Bush, Obama did an about face before the election and endorsed the 'Dream Act' for immigrant (hispanic) youth. In contrast, Romney talked about how they should 'self-deport' themselves to solve the so-called immigration problem. The student segment of the youth vote was captured by Obama by his shift to hold the line on the cost of student debt and Obamacare provisions to continue health insurance coverage. Romney's position was students should borrow more from their parents and repeal all of Obamacare, which would leave many of non-student 18-29 young workers, forced to live at home due to low paying service jobs, with no health care coverage at all. And the Great Lakes region union vote no doubt was influenced by the bailout of the auto industry and the Obama teams' successful spinning of the event, even though only 157,000 of the 340,000 lost auto jobs have been recovered and much of the latter at two-tier, low paid $14/hr. jobs. Romney argued the auto companies and jobs should ‘go bankrupt’ (and let the private equity vultures like his ‘Bain Capital’ pick their economic bones, no doubt).
These were not particularly great improvements. Real immigration reform would expand the Dream Act. Real student debt reform would eliminate excessive debt, not just freeze interest payments. Real jobs for youth would mean not just part time, temp, and low paid service work and a real rise in the minimum wage. Real auto job recovery would mean 200,000 more industry jobs with full pay and benefits, not just the half pay rate of $14 that many new auto jobs pay. But the gains for immigrants, Hispanics, young workers, Midwest auto and other workers, were not the ‘less than nothing’ that Romney promised. And these groups knew the difference, albeit a minimalist difference. Some minimalist concessions to their direct interests were made prior to the election. Nothing like the $13 trillion bailout of the banks, of course. Or the 150% increase in the stock and bond markets. Or the 50% increase in bankers’ bonuses the past two years. But nevertheless something.
The country has now moved beyond that theatrical event called national elections. And post-election November 2012, the biggest question remains: will Obama deliver for these working class groups that put him in office a second time? Or will it be ‘concession time’ again, with those who put him in office a second time asked to pay the lion’s share of deficit cutting? It is deficit cutting time redux. Back to the days of the ‘Simpson-Bowles’ Commission, the notorious debt ceiling deal of August 2011, and the so-called Congressional ‘Supercommittee’ that kicked the can down the road a year ago, in November 2011. It is back to the future once again, picking up where events left off a year ago.
With the 2012 election over, the real economic program for the next four years is about to be revealed. It’s concealed behind the fascade called ‘fiscal cliff’. The economic promises of both candidates during the election was only talk, both candidates telling their constituencies what they thought they wanted to hear. Now the real thing—the real economic program—is about to appear. Will ‘fiscal cliff’ mean those who put him in office pay the biggest price, while the wealthy, corporations, defense companies, bankers, stock and bond traders, and all the rest of such get yet another mostly ‘free ride’, as has been the case the past four years? With only three days since the election, Obama has publicly invited House Speaker, Boehner, to restart negotiations on the so-called ‘grand bargain’ that was postponed in the summer of 2011. Signaling willingness to once again engage in major concessions, Obama publicly declared he was not wedded to his prior stated economic program or objectives. Stay tuned for the next few weeks, as the political fog called US national elections slowly burns off and the true outlines of real economic program being cooked behind the scenes the past several weeks by the powerful economic and political elites of both parties becomes increasingly clear.
Jack Rasmus is the author of the recent book, ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’, 2012, and host of the radio show, ‘Alternative Visions’ on the progressive radio network, PRN.FM. His blog is jackrasmus.com, website www.kyklosproductions.com, and his twitter account, #drjackrasmus.