The Flip States

Nov 26, 2008 11:33am

Our assistant polling director, Peyton Craighill, has drilled into the exit poll data to examine the 2008 flip states – those that went for George W. Bush in 2004 but for Barack Obama this year. As we’ve seen nationally, age, partisanship and race were all key factors – including, notably, a sharp shift among Hispanics. His summary follows.

By Peyton Craighill

Nine states with 112 electoral votes made the difference for Barack Obama this year – the flip states John Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004, but Obama won. Together, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada went to Obama by 52-47 percent, a turnaround from Bush’s 53-46 percent four years ago.

The question: What changed?

Exit poll results show that the swing to Obama in these states was largely a reflection of voter preferences across the country: a flailing economy, broad dissatisfaction with Bush and the war in Iraq, changes in partisan identification, energized young voters and an increased Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters.

RACE – Hispanics accounted for 9 percent of voters in these nine states compared with their 7 percent share in 2004. And they favored Obama by 26 points, 62-36 percent, as opposed to a 5-point Kerry advantage, 52-47 percent, in 2004.

This 21-point increase was the largest change in support in any group in these flip states. Hispanics in the rest of the country increased their Democratic preference a bit more modestly, from a 23-point Kerry advantage to 38 points for Obama.

In three of the nine states, Hispanics made up a significant portion of the electorate, and their change in support was crucial to Obama’s victory. In Florida, where Hispanic turnout was stable at 14 percent, these voters supported Obama by 57-42 percent. In 2004 they went to Bush by 56-44 percent.

Hispanics in New Mexico increased their turnout by 9 points to 41 percent of voters, the most of any state, and favored Obama by 69-30 percent, more than triple Kerry’s 12-point margin, 56-44 percent. And in Nevada Hispanics accounted for 15 percent of voters, up 5 points, favoring Obama by 76-22 percent vs. Kerry’s 60-39 percent in 2004.

Obama improved among blacks as well, 94-6 percent in these nine states vs. Kerry’s 86-13 percent. And while Obama lost among whites in these states, it was by a closer margin, 55-43 percent for McCain vs. Bush’s 61-39 percent. (That’s similar to the 2004 to 2008 shift among whites in the rest of the country.)

AGE – Another key to Obama’s success was the support of young voters – and in these nine states their support was especially important. As was the case nationally, voters under 30 in the flip states didn’t increase their turnout from four years ago, but did increase their support for the Democratic candidate; they split 63-36 percent, compared with 54-44 percent in 2004. Obama improved sharply among middle-aged voters too, while losing seniors by 9 points.

The net result: If no one under age 30 had turned out on Election Day, McCain would have drawn even with Obama (49-49 percent) in these nine key states. In the rest of the country, by contrast, Obama won narrowly, 51-48 percent, among all voters 30-plus. (Looking state by state, young voters appear particularly to have made the difference for Obama in two of the nine flip states, Indiana and North Carolina.)

PARTY – Changes in partisan identification were big enough to move these states from a Republican to a Democratic advantage. In 2004 the partisan turnout was 40 percent Republican, 35 percent Democratic and 25 percent independent. This year Democratic identification pulled ahead of Republican by 37 percent to 33 percent, with independents inching up to 30 percent.

Not only did Republican identification decline by 7 points, but Obama was slightly more successful winning GOP defectors – he narrowed the gap among Republican voters in these states from an 88-point deficit in 2004 to a 79-point deficit this year. In the rest of the country, by contrast, McCain had about the same advantage among Republicans that Bush did in 2004.

Ideological identification didn’t change compared with 2004, but vote choice among liberals, moderates and conservatives all trended in Obama’s direction.

BUSH/IRAQ – Bush was a major drag on McCain. In 2004 Bush had a 55 percent job approval rating in these nine states. This year that was virtually cut in half, down to 29 percent. And Obama beat McCain by 69-29 percent among Bush disapprovers.

The Iraq war, while nowhere near as important as the economy, also hurt McCain. Four years ago 55 percent in the flip states approved of the war; that was down to 41 percent this year. And the 58 percent who disapprove of the war backed Obama by 79-19 percent.

Click here for a pdf table with some of the data in this summary.

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