CHICAGO _ There’s a maxim in American politics about young people. Every year, there’s a candidate who counts on them to finally vote in force. And every year, that candidate loses.
Until this year.
The youth vote came out strong for Barack Obama on Tuesday, perhaps in near-record numbers. Thanks to that _ and to the black vote, and the Latino vote and the yuppie vote _ the Illinois senator is on his way to the White House.
Obama won more votes than any presidential candidate in history, near-final returns show, and he won states that Democrats didn’t dream they’d be competitive in this year. He beat Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by six percentage points in the popular vote. Along the way, he rewrote the presidential election playbook and rebuilt the Democratic Party’s governing coalition with an unlikely mixture of newly awakened electoral giants.
Exit polls showed that African-Americans and Latinos made up a greater share of the total electorate than four years ago. Preliminary estimates by the group CIRCLE, which tracks youth voting, suggest at least 2.2 million more Americans ages 18 to 29 cast ballots than in 2004. When all votes are counted, the group said, youth turnout could climb to only a percentage point less than the 1972 record of 55 percent.
Obama, who will be the first black president, claimed more than nine in 10 African-American voters. Young voters and Latinos broke his way by 2-1. Democratic nominee John Kerry won each of those groups in 2004, but Obama won them by a substantially larger margin.
“Without a doubt, the overwhelming backing of younger voters was a critical factor in Obama’s victory,” the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported in a Wednesday analysis of election results.
The report also noted Obama’s success with minorities and low-income voters. It hailed “striking gains among the most affluent voters” _ Obama won a majority of voters who earn $200,000 or more, besting Kerry’s performance by nearly 20 percentage points.
Perhaps the only thing more striking than the demographics behind Obama’s victory was the geography.
He rolled up big margins in cities and suburbs and aggressively limited his losses in rural areas. He won in the Mountain West, in the Midwest and in chunks of the old Confederacy _ thanks in large part to a platinum-plated, tech-fueled ground organization, tuned in to the heat of a fierce primary election campaign and employed to drive scores of new voters to the polls.
“He was the right kind of different,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, the battleground of battlegrounds. Obama, he added, “married community organizing with technology better than anybody ever has.”
Brown and other Democrats credit Obama’s organizational advantage for victories in the traditionally Republican bastions of Virginia and Indiana and the swing states of Colorado and Florida.
That edge was on display in Ohio, the state that narrowly denied Kerry the presidency, and which Obama carried by four percentage points.
After winning only five of 88 counties in the March primary against Hillary Clinton, Obama established 89 field offices across the state. On Tuesday, Obama won 21 counties, compared to Kerry’s 16, a modest improvement, but he drew more votes in these counties than Kerry did. Among his pick-ups was Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, which voted for Bush in 2004.
Nationally, exit polls showed Obama outperforming Kerry and 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore in suburbs and small towns.
The exit polls showed no signs of the so-called Bradley Effect, in which black candidates running against white opponents fare worse on Election Day than in pre-election polling. One in five voters called race a factor in their presidential decision, but they preferred Obama over McCain _ and by a near-identical margin to those who said race was not a factor.
Obama did better among white voters than Kerry or Gore. He fared poorly with southern whites, winning only one in three of them. But Obama and the Democratic Party don’t appear to need those voters to hold power in Washington, said Thomas Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Whistling Past Dixie.”
Thanks to congressional gains across the nation on Tuesday, Schaller said, Democrats could now form a Senate majority without a single Southerner and a House majority without a single white Southerner.
“You have a completely different coalition that’s running this country,” he said.
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