First Look at Voter Turnout

This entry is cross-posted from the blog Data @ New America.

It's hard to believe that the 2012 election concluded just one week ago, but it's really over! The final vote delivered re-election to Barack Obama, winning 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney's 206. Despite only leading Romney by two-to-three points in the popular vote, Obama managed to clinch the election with strong showings in several swing states, padding his electoral college victory. The 2012 returns reveal that the coalition that delivered Obama the presidency four years ago has lessened — the map was nearly identical save for Indiana and North Carolina, which voted for the Republican ticket this time around. But what about turnout? Clearly the president convinced enough voters to come to the polls, but how does it compare with his 2008 victory?

Calculating turnout can be tricky business in the days following an election. States have a few weeks to certify their vote totals before the Electoral College convenes on January 8. They need this time to count not only early votes and the votes from Election Day, but also absentee and provisional ballots that can further increase turnout figures.

Despite this, we decided to take a crack at a preliminary look at turnout compared to the 2008 election. With some help from eligible voter figures from the United States Election Project and the latest voter tally figure from POLITICO, we were able to create a map that revealed how turnout had changed in the 2012 election. (You might ask, why POLITICO? Well, no definitive data sets are available for download or purchase and POLITICO's state-by-state presidential vote figures included both Romney, Obama, and the other minor third-party candidates in an easy to cut-and-paste-into-Excel format).

Turnout is pretty interesting, but the coolest thing we pulled off with our latest map is we made our first cartogram. Cartograms are unique because they warp the shapes of geography on a map based on a data point for that shape. For example, in our cartogram of voter turnout, the state of Wyoming is not its usual rectangle shape. Instead, it's imploded quite a bit because we sized the states relative to the votes counted for Election Day. that's why a state like Wyoming is imploded while Florida looks like it needs to go on a diet.

Cartograms are pretty cool and we're looking forward to making lots more for future maps. Check it out:

If States Were as Big as Their Vote Counts

Tuesday delivered President Barack Obama to the White House for a second term, but fewer voters turned out in this presidential election than the last. While 131 million people voted in 2008, about 120 million (and counting) voted in this election, according to preliminary data. The map above shows how the 2012 electoral map would look if states were sized according to the number of votes cast in them.

Mouse over each state to see its turnout rate. The country as a whole saw a 58-percent turnout rate, down 4 percent from the last presidential election, according to the Associated Press.

How Obama Should Tackle Immigration Reform

On Tuesday night, President Obama suggested that fixing our broken immigration system would be one of his second-term policy priorities. Notably, he made no mention of immigration, or immigration reform, during his 2008 victory speech. Times have changed.
For Schwartz Fellow Tamar Jacoby, the president’s recent immigration reference raised some critical questions. The key one: “What can the president do to change the dynamic [in Washington] – to make immigration reform more achievable now than it has been over the last four stalemated years?”
That dynamic is more complex than simple partisan gridlock, wrote Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, in a statement released this week.
Here’s how it has historically played out:

“Democrats owned the issue and used it to hammer Republicans – not, in far too many cases, in order to pass a bill, but rather to show voters how recalcitrant Republicans were and how unsympathetic to minorities,” writes Jacoby. ”Meanwhile, Republicans ignored the issue, as if it would simply go away, or stood in the corner with their arms folded across their chests: on immigration at least, the party of NO.”
Now, she says, that dynamic seems to be changing. Congressional Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have latched onto the issue during the past few months and proposed legislation that could help improve the system. “Can the president take advantage of and build on this new dynamic rather than reverting to the old pattern – the seemingly righteous but unproductive partisan blame game?” Jacoby wonders.
She maps out a strategy: “It would have to start quietly behind the scenes, far from the limelight. Both parties would need to own reform. Republicans would have tostretch in what they’re prepared to support. But Democrats too would have to compromise – any bipartisan legislation will fall far short of their wish list. An all-inclusive package like the McCain-Kennedy bill of 2006 seems unlikely. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be real breakthroughs – and real relief for everyone, immigrants and the businesses that count on them, who desperately need a better immigration system.”
Learn more about what this election means for immigration reform here.

In Between His Lines

What were New America's analysts thinking as President Obama sketched out his second-term policy priorities during Tuesday night's victory speech? Listen to a podcast remix of some of the president's remarks with the insights of Marc Goldwein, senior policy director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,  Justin King, the federal policy liaison of the Asset Building Program, Schwartz Fellow Mark Hertsgaard,  Jason Peuquet, research director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,  Schwartz Fellow Tamar Jacoby, and Schwartz Fellow Steve LeVine.

Where Karl Rove Was Right

This article was written by Gregory Rodriguez, the director of New America's Center for Social Cohesion and the publisher of Zócalo Public Square. It was originally published on Zócalo Public Square, a project of the New America Foundation.

Give Karl Rove a break. His meltdown on election night may not have been entirely about Fox News prematurely calling Ohio for President Barack Obama. After all, the poor guy had every right to get upset while watching the Republican Party nominee’s campaign crash and burn.

For all intents and purposes, Mitt Romney trampled on Rove’s once vaunted GOP playbook–and leaves a weakened GOP in his wake.

Once upon a time, Rove had hoped to build a big-tent Republican Party that would be well-poised to capture the support of a rapidly diversifying America. He was the mastermind behind George W. Bush’s Latino strategy, first when Bush won reelection as Texas governor in 1998 and again when he campaigned for the presidency in 2000. In ’98 Bush became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in Texas to win overwhelmingly Mexican-American El Paso County. Two years later, he won a respectable 35 percent of the Latino vote nationally.

Initially at least, Latinos were a crucial part of Bush’s overall strategy. His ability to capture a sizable portion (40 percent) of the Latino vote while Texas governor was, in fact, the one concrete thing he could point to when trying to pitch himself as a “compassionate conservative.”

How did Bush do it? It certainly wasn’t a long list of promises he delivered as governor. Because there was no list. Nor was it those charming moments when he trotted out his elementary Spanish-language skills. And as governor, immigration policy wasn’t even in his wheelhouse.

The secret to Bush’s success with Latinos in Texas was, as Woody Allen would say, just showing up–literally.

In his first term as governor, Bush visited El Paso, a Democratic stronghold that is closer to San Diego than it is to Austin, no fewer than 13 times. On those visits, he delivered a Rove-devised message of inclusion and Texas unity. His Latino-targeted gubernatorial reelection ads, which would presage his national campaign two years later, stressed commonality of values between Texas Anglos and Mexicans. The message was that hard work, pride, and the strong family values of Mexican-Americans are quintessentially Texan, too.

It didn’t hurt that Bush’s brother Jeb married a Mexican woman and that his nephews were olive-skinned. (George H.W. Bush once referred to them affectionately as “the little brown ones.”) To George W., Mexican-Americans were family, literally, and, unlike so many national pols, his rapport and comfort level was actually genuine. He wasn’t about to repeat President Gerald Ford’s famous gaffe of biting into a tamale before removing the corn husk.

Truth be told, for many Latino voters, the battered wives of American politics, Bush’s appeals were a breath of fresh air. They countered the GOP’s anti-Latino reputation, which had been created by California Governor Pete Wilson in 1994, when he endorsed a mean-spirited, racially charged ballot initiative. Proposition 187 was designed, among other things, to bar undocumented children from schools and other non-emergency government services.

Rove’s Latino strategy also had the added benefit of making the long complacent Democrats actually fight for Latino votes.

The early post-mortems of the 2012 presidential campaign have seen a lot of conservative pundits claiming that the only way to win Latino votes is to pass immigration reform that would include some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants, a position that most Republicans refuse to support. But that’s a decidedly narrow view of why Romney’s showing among Latinos was the worst since Bob Dole received 21 percent of their vote in 1996.

There’s no doubt that many Latino voters would respond positively to a GOP plan for immigration reform. But immigration isn’t the only issue Latinos care about. In fact, it isn’t even the most important issue.

An election eve ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions poll found that, at 53 percent, job creation and the economy was the most important issue for Latino voters, followed by immigration at 35 percent and education at 20 percent.

Rove’s Latino strategy was central to Bush’s first presidential run. It certainly included immigration reform. But it’s important to remember that it was part of a broader appeal that included a focus on values, entrepreneurialism, and patriotism. Bush showed up. For Romney, Latino voters were more like an afterthought.

Fox’s Bill O’Reilly’s sullen lament on election night about the GOP’s fate in the face of America’s demographic change both echoes Romney’s infamous 47 percent comments and the gist of so much post-election griping from conservatives.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” O’Reilly said. “And the voters, many of them, feel the economic system is stacked against them, and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

O’Reilly’s disdain for minorities doesn’t derive from any disagreement over immigration policy. Rather, it’s rooted in a weird racialist worldview that holds that whites are more bootstrapping and self-sufficient than moocher minorities. That theme of white integrity versus minority dependency is as old as white supremacy itself. But its recent resurgence among mainstream Republicans is pushing the GOP toward a demographic cliff as much as any debate over immigration.

Last Tuesday, only 12 percent of Romney supporters were nonwhite. His decisive loss suddenly has everyone realizing what has long been so painfully obvious to Rove: that Republicans can’t build a majority if they can’t garner a sizable share of minorities, particularly Latinos.

Rove did essentially say those words on Tuesday night. But his delivery wasn’t as dramatic or memorable as his Ohio meltdown. George W.’s strategist may have been wrong on Election Night, but on the much bigger question of minorities and the fate of the GOP, Rove was right.

Photo credit: Reuters/ Fred Prouser


Verify Some, But Mostly Trust

On the Day After, in Mexico for a New America Fellows trip to the Ciudad de las Ideas conference in Puebla, Mexican TV's late-night "Tecer Grado" (the Third Degree) news commentary show gave me some thought-provoking perspective on the election back home.

The first half of the discussion about the U.S. election was marked by incredulity at how rickety and amateurish the most-vaunted democracy's electoral process really is.  "You've got a presidential election but each and every state can organize it in whatever way it feels like," said Joaquin Lopez Doriga, the network's main anchorman from Washington, as if explaining the most exotic customs of a more primitive civilization.  "And even within states, people may even have to vote in very different ways, as it varies by county."

When another panelist asked why federal electoral authorities didn't intervene to impose standards and uniformity, Lopez Doriga pointed out that there is no federal electoral authority.  There was a shocked silence for a moment as this sunk in.  But who counts the votes? Who vouches for the legitimacy of results?  Another panelist added to the consternation by saying "he'd read somewhere" that the U.S. doesn't even have federal voter registration rolls, and that there are an estimated 2 to 3 million people registered to vote in more than one state.  Amateur hour!

For a short time, the discussion acquired a smug satisfaction -- ah, the superiority of Mexico's electoral process, with its globally admired independent Federal Elections Institute and its sophisticated (and very expensive) universal ID card system (which is seen as empowering and franchise-expanding here, as opposed to debates in U.S.), its legions of juror-like citizen poll watchers and so on and so on.

And yet.  The conversation suddenly took an unexpected turn. The fact is, various of the commentators noted, the American system works.  For all its antiquated absurdity (electoral college, no impartial electoral authorities and so on), the thing works.  The Americans put on this bizarre contest with its odd rules, and by the end of the day, without any official referee proclaiming any official results, one side gracefully concedes after the long bitter battle.

There was on the show (and many of the analysts on air aren't prone to celebrate anything American) a sense of wonder and awe at what they witnessed Tuesday night, including the role of the media, the accuracy of polls and Romney's graceful concession.  

It was as if all the Whos up in Whoville had been deprived of all the trappings of a proper 21st Century election, but still managed to come together to pull it off.  Because while they didn't have what most other countries might deem essential to holding election, the Whos had one thing no money or legislation could buy -- trust in their system and traditions; social cohesion.  

Mexico's electoral system, like that of other countries trying to overcome a less democratic past, boast electoral systems brimming with safeguards.  These are electoral systems designed for societies and democracies characterized by mistrust.  And for all its state-of-the-art electoral institutions, the runner up in Mexico's last two presidential elections refused to concede graciously the way Mitt Romney did Tuesday night.  

"No amount of safeguards and precision in the system can provide as much trust in the system as having the losers abide by results," one of the Tercer Grado panelists noted with a sigh.

The flawed, makeshift U.S. electoral system is the kind of system you can only tolerate in a society characterized by trust.  It's the equivalent of keeping your doors unlocked in the good old days.  Elections are volunteer-driven civic rituals that never had to be professionalized to the same degree they have been in much of the rest of the world.

Of course the credibility of the system, and our trust in it, has been tested in recent years, never moreso than in 2000. Lawyers were on call Tuesday in Ohio and elsewhere to pounce if necessary, and growing segments of our population resist accepting the full legitimacy of many of our elections.

So the trendline is worrying.  But I am glad Mexican TV helped put things in perspective and reminded me of our intangible comparative advantage as a democratic society -- trust.   Trust we need to cherish and preserve.

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