Explainer: How the GOP is Losing the Middle Ground

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As the votes from the 2012 election have trickled in, the size of President Obama’s victory has grown – it’s now more than 4 million votes. That count should signify two things to Republicans who wanted to portray President Obama’s win as a squeaker. One, while this margin is no mandate, it is bigger than either of George W. Bush’s presidential wins in 2000 (in which he actually lost the popular vote) or 2004. Two, despite some GOP critiques that Mr. Obama won by capturing small slices of the electorate, the net result was a pretty broad win.

But looked at through Patchwork Nation, there is one larger overriding concern for the Republicans in the 2012 election results: despite all the talk of minority voters and demographic segments, there are signs they are losing the political middle.

That shift reveals itself when you look at the 2012 vote counts and margins compared to previous elections, particularly 2004, in the wealthy Monied Burbs, the more exurban Boom Towns and the small-town Service Worker Centers - in beige, rust and red in the map below. A Base Election?

Going into 2012, many political analysts, including Patchwork Nation, saw a lot of parallels to the 2004 presidential race. There were several reasons to expect a similar “base election,” one driven by hard-core Republican and Democratic supporters – a weak incumbent, a polarized electorate and a motivated opposition.

And in some ways we had that election. Both Mr. Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney had strong support from their core voters in Patchwork Nation’s 12 demographic county types.

The most reliable Republican communities – the socially conservative Evangelical Epicenters, the Mormon Outposts and the rural agricultural Tractor Country counties – gave Mr. Romney levels support equal to or greater than the support they gave President Bush in 2004.

Mr. Romney won 68 percent of the vote in the Epicenters, 81 percent in the Outposts and 68 percent in Tractor Country. Mr. Bush won 68 percent, 80 percent and 65 percent of the vote in those counties respectively. (Mr. Romney’s numbers were also quite a bit better than Sen. John McCain’s tallies in those places in 2008.)

This map from WNYC Radio shows the 2012 vote tallies using the Patchwork Nation types.

On the other side, Mr. Obama did better in the counties that are traditionally Democratic strongholds than Sen. John Kerry did in 2004. He got big numbers from the big city Industrial Metropolises (68 percent) and the collegiate Campus and Career counties (56 percent).

So if the battle was base-versus-base both sides got their people out.

The chart blow shows the comparison of 2004 and 2012 with the 12 Patchwork Nation county types. The percentages in bold indicate types where the candidate in 2012 outperformed or tied the numbers from the candidate of the same party in 2004. 

Who Won Where, Comparing the 2004 and 2012 Elections by County Type

Comm. Type
Obama (2012)
Kerry (2004)
Romney (2012)
Bush (2004)

Evangelical Epicenters

30%

34%

68%

65%

Tractor Country

30%

30%

68%

68%

Mormon Outposts

17%

18%

81%

80%

Industrial Metros

68%

63%

31%

36%

Campus and Careers

56%

55%

42%

44%

Monied Burbs

53%

50%

46%

49%

Boom Towns

45%

41%

54%

58%

Service Worker Centers

44%

43%

54%

55%

Military Bastions

47%

43%

51%

56%

Minority Central

50%

48%

49%

51%

Emptying Nests

47%

43%

52%

56%

Immigration Nation

51%

45%

47%

54%

To read the rest of this post, visit Patchwork Nation.