While the 2008 and 2012 Presidential election results were never in doubt in Louisiana, it’s worth noting that while President Obama’s share of the popular vote dropped from 53 to 51%, he saw a small uptick in support in Louisiana – his share of the vote went from 40 to 41% between 2008 and 2012. What happened?
Heavy black turnout: To appreciate the extent to which President Obama energized black turnout both in 2008 and 2012, some context is needed. In the 2004 Presidential election, 66.9% of registered voters in Louisiana turned out. If this turnout were to be analyzed through the prism of a voter’s race, 70.4% of whites and 61.1% of blacks voted. This equates to an “enthusiasm gap” of 9.3%. Barack Obama’s historic candidacy in 2008 cut that “enthusiasm gap” in half – to 4.9%. In other words, overall turnout remained roughly the same at 67.2%, but white turnout decreased a bit to 69.5%, and black turnout increased to 64.6%.
Whether this level of black turnout could be sustained was the “big unknown” this election season since President Obama as an incumbent had a controversial record to defend and a weak economy. The election results show that not only was the 2008 black turnout maintained, it increased some – the “enthusiasm gap” was cut in half again to 2.2%. Overall turnout increased to 67.9% due to an increase in black turnout to 67.2%, while white turnout remained flat at 69.4%.
A “moderating” white electorate? Robust black turnout in 2012 certainly explained most of President Obama’s uptick in support in Louisiana. And it’s almost as if Obama’s Republican opponents were irrelevant: black voters supported Barack Obama 95-4% in 2008 and 96-4% in 2012. Similarly, white voters split 81-17% for the Republican candidate in both 2008 and 2012.
However, we had noticed in the aftermath of Senator David Vitter’s landslide 2010 re-election that there was a perceptible white moderate/liberal voting base in the “urban core” parishes of East Baton Rouge and Orleans. That trend continued into 2012 – while white voters outside of East Baton Rouge and Orleans voted against President Obama by an identical 82-16% both in 2008 and 2012, a white vote of 78-20% for McCain in East Baton Rouge Parish was 77-21% for Romney in 2012. Similarly, the white vote in Orleans Parish went 57-42% for McCain and only 55-42% for Romney. What is likely happening here is what is happening across the country: in the urban core of a metropolitan area, white voters are not voting on economic issues anymore. Instead, their electoral choices are being driven by social/lifestyle issues. Granted, what we are showing in Orleans and East Baton Rouge are not major shifts, but when you consider that President Obama’s nationwide support dropped 2% between 2008 and 2012, a shift TOWARDS him in a Deep South state is noteworthy.
Finally, there is one more aspect about the 2012 elections that deserves to be mentioned: the increasing popularity of early voting. In person early voting is a relatively recent phenomenon in Louisiana, but has gained a level of statewide acceptance. In 2008, a record was set when 15% (or 292K) of the electorate had voted early. That record (from a percentage standpoint) was broken in the 2011 primary when 16% of Louisianians (168K) voted early. And in 2012, the record was broken again both from a percentage and an early voting volume perspective – 18% of the vote was cast before Election Day, while early voting volume itself was 356K, or a 22% increase over an already massive 2008 volume. This is a method of voting that is increasing in popularity, and politicians and political operatives alike would be foolish not to treat early voting week as a “seven day Election Day.”