That alone was enough to confound Republican modelers, who either believed or hoped that the electorate would look more like that of 2004 than 2008, both in its racial and political makeup.
But it was not the only story. Obama’s campaign, the most data-driven in the history of American politics, tweaked the electorate in enough places and enough constituencies to eke out victories in virtually every battleground state that had looked competitive on the eve of the election.
Nothing was inevitable about the president’s victory. But against the obstacles in Obama’s path was a belief in Chicago in the glacial power of demographic change. If not exactly a secret weapon, it was an underappreciated asset, and its inexorable quality was seemingly underestimated by Romney’s campaign and by many Republican strategists.
Obama advisers were certain that the electorate would have fewer white voters than it had in 2008, just as it had fewer in 2008 than in 2004 and in elections before that. Since 1992, the share of the white vote has fallen from 87 percent to 83 percent to 81 percent to 77 percent and then to 74 percent in 2008.
On Tuesday, according to exit polls, whites accounted for 72 percent. Obama received 39 percent of that white vote, compared with 43 percent in 2008. That compares with the 42 percent Al Gore captured in 2000 and the 41 percent John F. Kerry took in 2004. In fact, it is the lowest for any Democrat running in a two-way contest since 1984, when Walter Mondale received 35 percent of the white vote.
Obama offset his weak performance among white voters by winning 80 percent of the non-white electorate. He captured 93 percent of the African American vote, 71 percent of the Hispanic vote (up from 67 percent four years ago) and 73 percent of the Asian vote (up from 62 percent in 2008).
Obama also won 80 percent of the non-white vote four years ago, which was a shade under Jimmy Carter’s 82 percent in 1976, the highest share for any Democrat in the past 40 years. At the time, however, non-whites made up just 10 percent of the electorate, and African Americans accounted for by far the largest share.
Obama’s campaign, though, did not rely solely on the power of demographic change. It set out to maximize it as much as possible. For the past 18 months, the team invested in what it called Operation Vote, which was aimed exclusively at the key constituencies that make up Obama’s coalition: African Americans, Hispanics, young voters and women (particularly those with college degrees.)