Over the last week analysts—including such noted political scientists as me, my friends, my mother, and people I’ve talked with in the locker room at the gym—have been swapping anecdotes and reviewing the results of the election to try to explain how Barack Obama won.
Some say it was his commanding lead among young voters. Others argue that young voters didn’t matter much at all, but African-Americans obviously did. Karl Rove thinks Obama won by registering new voters and getting a good number of them to the polls, which allowed him to pick up a slightly bigger share of churchgoers, independents, Latinos, and white guys. Other data crunchers say it happened because he siphoned off votes from the upper class or won over urban whites. A few note that he even made inroads among evangelical Christians. My old man offers his own personal evidence that some disgruntled Republicans turned blue after determining their party had been taken over by the right.
The debate will undoubtedly continue for some time—there are reams of data to sort through, and with no elections until primaries start again in a year and a half, politicos will need something to talk about, especially since the searing debate over who the Obamas will hire to be the White House chef can’t last long.
Even in Chicago the voting figures are more complicated than might be expected. As my colleague Ben Joravsky has noted, there were barely enough John McCain voters in black south-side wards to fill a CTA bus … a fact brought home to me as I rode around on a bus full of Obama supporters on Election Day morning, listening to an old veteran shout the triumphant message of the moment: “I voted for the right guy, and this time it wasn’t the white guy.”
In fact, Obama cleaned up across all 20 of Chicago’s predominantly African-American wards, winning a whopping 97 percent—but that’s only up a couple points from the 94 percent John Kerry won in 2004 and the 95 percent Al Gore took in 2000.
Compared with his Democratic predecessors, Obama was actually more dominant in other parts of Chicago—especially Latino areas—allowing him to win 85 percent of the citywide vote next to Kerry’s 81 percent and Gore’s 80 percent. Obama’s weakest showings were in traditionally white, conservative wards on the northwest and southwest sides as well as in the 42nd Ward, which includes much of downtown and the Gold Coast.
Everyone—including me—has been talking about the amazing level of interest the campaign seemed to generate, but the truth is more nuanced, at least in Obama’s hometown. Maybe it was because he was decreed to have Illinois in the bag from the get-go, but turnout in Chicago actually tapered off slightly from four years ago—even in the black wards, where 72 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, down a point from 2004 (but up from the 67.5 percent recorded in 2000). What did go up was the number of voters on the rolls—1,497,292, up 6 percent from 2004 (as well as the number of them who went with the Democrat: 919,447, up nearly 10 percent). That’s still an increase in participation.
For a detailed look at the numbers, click here.