Today in my Monday Fix newspaper column, I wrote about a new study from Marisa Abrajano, an associate political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, making the case that the consolidation of the white vote behind the Republican party could actually help the GOP electorally in the near term.
Here's the essence of Abrajano's argument:
Given that whites still make up about three-quarters of the voters in the nation and will likely be the clear majority for decades to come, there is every reason to believe that whites will have a real say in who governs. Indeed the white population’s growing allegiance to the Republican Party points to a very different short term future — one that might more likely be highlighted by Republican victory than by Democratic dominance.
That got me to thinking about just how much more of the white vote Mitt Romney would have needed to win in order to beat President Obama in 2012. So, I did the math. (Before I get started, huge thanks to David Wasserman's terrific popular vote counts and CNN's state by state exit polls.)
First of all, there were 129,075,629 votes cast in the 2012 election. (That was two million fewer than were cast in 2008.) Of that total, 72 percent were cast by whites. That's 92,934,452 votes. By comparison, Hispanics cast 12,907,562 votes and African Americans cast 16,779,831 votes.
Now, of the 92,934,452 white votes Romney won 59 percent -- or 54,831,326. Obama won 39 percent or a total of 36,244,436. Romney's winning margin among whites was 18,586,890. Nationally, Obama won 65,915,934 votes compared to Romney's 60,933,657; Obama's margin was 4,982,277 over Romney. That means that Romney would have had to increase his margin over Obama by roughly
five million 2.5 million votes among whites to have won the race -- if all of the other demographic breakouts stayed the same. (Every vote Romney took would be a vote Obama didn't win.)
So, what percentage of the white vote would Romney have had to win -- and is it feasible to think that the next Republican presidential nominee could get to that marker? (Before I get too deep into this, I worked off the premise that Romney and Obama were the only candidates in my white vote projections. That means I eliminated the handful of third party candidates who took a pittance of the white -- and overall -- vote.)
I started with Romney winning 61 percent of the white vote, a slight improvement on his actual showing but not out of the realm of the possible. Romney would have increased his margin from 18.6 million to 20.4 million, close but not enough to have won the popular vote. So, I bumped up Romney to 65 percent of the white vote. (Reagan won 66 percent of the white vote in 1984 while he was blowing out Walter Mondale, the highest percentage of the white vote for a Republican in modern presidential history.) If he had won two thirds of the white vote, Romney's margin over Obama among whites would have been almost 28 million -- providing him a comfortable popular vote victory.
Finally, I split the difference, giving Romney 63 percent of the white vote. His margin under that scenario would have been 24 million votes as compared to his actual 18.6 million. That's a 5,575,066 vote difference, double the votes he would need. So, if Romney had won a shade over 62 percent of the white vote he would have won the popular vote.
Then I started to think about how much more of the white vote would have had to move to Romney for him to have won the electoral college. I picked four of the swingiest states -- Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Iowa -- which, if Romney had swept them (he lost all four), would have given him 272 electoral votes and the presidency. (Obama won 332 electoral votes to 206 for Romney.)
In Florida, 67 percent of the vote was white and Romney won 61 percent of it -- good for 3,463,396 votes. His margin over Obama among white voters in Florida was 1.36 million; he lost the state by 74,309 total votes. Had Romney done 1.5 points better -- 62.5 percent of the white vote -- he would have won.
In Ohio, 79 percent of voters were white and Romney won 57 percent of them. That amounted to 2,513,052 votes and a 705,419 vote margin among whites over Obama. Obama won the state by 166,277 votes. To have overcome Obama in the state, Romney would have had to win almost 61 percent of the white vote.
In Virginia, seven in ten voters were white. Romney took 61 percent of the white vote, good for 1,645,866 votes. His margin over Obama among whites was 647,554; he lost statewide by 149,298 votes. Romney would have had to bump his winning percentage among whites all the way to almost 65 percent to have knocked off Obama statewide.
In Iowa, 93 percent of voters were white. Obama actually won the white vote with 51 percent -- a margin of almost 59,000. He won statewide by almost 92,000. For Romney to have won statewide, he would have had to win more than 53 percent of the white vote in Iowa.
An electoral college victory for Romney built on an increase in his white vote margins then would have been far more difficult than a popular vote one. And that highlights Republicans' problems in 2016 -- and beyond. (Worth noting: it's impossible to quantify but there is undoubtedly some portion of the white vote that went for McCain and Romney due to Obama's skin color. If Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton in 2016, that would be less of an issue.) Unless the white vote heavily consolidates -- up to and perhaps beyond Reagan's 66 percent in 1984 -- the party will be hard pressed to get to an electoral college majority in 2016 unless it can find ways to win more of the Latino vote.