How Minority Voters Helped Obama Win Reelection

President Barack Obama wins the 2012 presidential election
President Barack Obama waves to supports after winning the 2012 presidential election on Nov. 6, 2012.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images News

Americans from ethnic minority groups voted en masse to help President Barack Obama win reelection. While just 39% of white Americans voted for Obama on Election Day in 2012, a staggering number of Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters backed the president at the polls.   The reasons for this are multifaceted, but minority voters largely supported the president because they felt that Republican candidate Mitt Romney could not relate to them.

A national exit poll revealed that 81% of Obama supporters said the quality that mattered most to them in a presidential candidate is whether he “cares about people like me.” Romney, born into wealth and privilege, apparently didn’t fit the bill.

The growing disconnect between Republicans and the diverse American electorate wasn’t lost on political analyst Matthew Dowd. He remarked on ABC News after the election that the Republican Party no longer reflects U.S. society, using a television show analogy to make his point. “Republicans right now are a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world,” he opined.

The rise in minority voters reveals how much the United States has changed from 1996 when 83% of those who cast ballots in the presidential election were white voters. If the demographics had not changed, it's highly unlikely that Obama would have made it to the White House.

Loyal Black Voters

Black people may be the second-largest minority group in the United States, but their share of the electorate is larger than any other minority segment. On Election Day in 2012, Black people made up 13% of U.S. voters. Ninety-three percent of these voters supported Obama’s reelection bid, down just 2% from 2008. 

While the African American community has been accused of favoring Obama precisely because he’s a Black man, the group has a long history of loyalty to Democrats running for office. John Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential race to George W. Bush, won 88% of the Black vote. Given that the Black voter turnout was more than 6% higher in 2012 than it was in 2004, the group’s devotion to Obama undoubtedly gave him an edge.

Latinos Break Voting Record

More Latinos than ever before turned out at the polls in 2012. Hispanics made up 10% of the electorate. Seventy-one percent of these Latinos backed Obama for reelection. Latinos likely supported Obama overwhelmingly over Romney because they supported the president’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as well as his decision to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. While Republicans supported past iterations of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act—Sen. Hatch, Orrin G.(R-UT) was a co-sponsor of the original act passed in 2002—party members have largely opposed more recent versions. In June 2019, 187 Republicans voted against the Dream and Promise Act, which would have not only protected 2.1 million such immigrants from deportation but also put them on the path to citizenship.

Republicans and Democrats hold differing views on immigration and immigration reform, with a majority of Republicans favoring tighter border security and deportation of undocumented immigrants. That stance has alienated Latino voters, 60% of whom say they know an unauthorized immigrant, according to a Latino Decisions poll taken on the eve of the 2012 election. Affordable health care is also a major concern of the Latino community. Sixty-six percent of Hispanics say the government should ensure that the public has access to health care, and 61% supported Obamacare in 2012, according to Latino Decisions.

Rising Influence of Asian Americans

Asian Americans make up a small but growing percentage of the U.S. electorate—nearly 5% in 2020. An estimated 73% of Asian Americans voted for Obama in 2012, Voice of America determined using exit poll data. Obama has strong ties to the Asian community. He's not only a native of Hawaii but grew up partly in Indonesia and has a half-Indonesian sister. These aspects of his background likely resonated with some Asian Americans.

While Asian American voters don’t yet wield the influence that black and Latino voters do, they could play a more influential role in future presidential elections. According to the Pew Research Center, the Asian American community has outpaced Hispanics as the fastest-growing immigrant group in the country.

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