When it comes to building a winning coalition, President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have very distinct paths to victory. Romney is betting on winning big with white voters. The president’s coalition was substantially more diverse in 2008, and he’s looking to expand his reach in 2012 enough to offset Romney’s play for white voters.
So what is the racial composition of the support for these two men as we exit the conventions?
There’s no easy, straightforward way to answer that question. It requires a deep dive into exit polling, public opinion surveys, voter registration numbers and census data. So the below chart is a proxy. It takes the share of the overall support among these three groups — based on the current polling of the presidential race contained in our PollTracker Averages of White, African-American and Latino voters — and applies those percentages to 2010 census data of the total U.S. voting-age populations of those groups:
(Together whites, blacks and Latinos make up over 90 percent of the population, per 2011 census estimates. The remainder is comprised of other racial groups that are so infrequently polled in national surveys that we are unable to track them.)
White voters have leaned increasingly Republican in recent elections, although still not nearly as overwhelmingly as blacks and Latinos lean Democratic. Whites broke for then-President Bush at a 58 percent clip in 2004, according to exit polling, while 41 percent went for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Obama narrowed the gap a little, winning 43 percent of white voters and holding Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to 55 percent in 2008, according to exit polling.
Team Romney has set a target of 61 percent of the white vote, according to reporting by Ron Brownstein. It won’t be easy.
“If he reaches 61 percent among whites, he would equal the best performance ever for a Republican presidential challenger with that group of voters: Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Ronald Reagan in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1988 each won between 56 percent and 61 percent of white voters, according to polls at the time,” Brownstein reports.
While Republicans are making a push for Latino voters, they remain a small part of Romney’s support so far, despite a heavy emphasis on wooing Latino voters, with prime speaking slots in Tampa and a focus on the party’s pitch to that segment of the voting bloc.
For his part, Obama’s support from white voters represents about two-thirds of his total support, according to our chart. His substantially more diverse coalition — which is consistent with historic pattern for Democrats — is they key to offsetting Romney’s stronger support among white voters. But Obama cannot bank merely on high levels of support from minority voters; he needs high turnout among those segments, too.
African-American voters remain the most loyal Democratic constituency in modern elections, often with more than 90 percent rate of them voting Democratic. In 2008, African-American voters turned out in record numbers to vote for President Obama.
As for Romney’s effort to capture the presidency with so little support from minorities, he is fighting the inexorable demographic changes that are diversifying the electorate as a whole. “This is the last time anyone will try to do this,” one Romney adviser told Brownstein.
Chart by Christopher O’Driscoll.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.