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Analysis: Obama's new Democratic majority

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Story highlights

  • Obama's victory is a testament to a changing America
  • Romney's coalition bore a striking resemblance to John McCain's four years ago
  • Romney won a small majority of independents, but not enough to make a difference
  • Results show Republican party facing a demographics problem

If you want to understand the historical magnitude of President Obama's re-election victory, start with this fact: He lost the white vote by 20 points. In 1988, Mike Dukakis lost white voters by 19 points. He was crushed in a 40-state landslide.

Obama's victory is a testament to a changing America. The president won a second term in the face of a weak economy by reassembling the bulk of his 2008 coalition: Hispanics, African-Americans, younger voters and single women. Mitt Romney's support was older, whiter, and more Protestant than the president's -- a faded shadow of a time gone by.

It also bore a striking resemblance to Sen. John McCain's coalition four years ago.

Re-election puts Obama to the test

A few specifics: Obama won Latino voters by nearly 40 points -- a slightly larger margin than his total over McCain four years ago -- while the Latino share of the total vote crept up from 9% to 10%. Romney's tough talk on illegal immigration and self-deportation may have helped him win the GOP nomination, but it cost him in the fall.

See data on who voted for whom

    Black voters were 13% of the total electorate, the same share as in 2008 but a bump up from typical modern turnout levels. The first black president's share of the black vote actually dropped a couple of points, but was still far north of 90%. Talk of black alienation because of resistance on issues like same-sex marriage was overblown.

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    Voters age 18 to 29 comprised a slightly larger share of the electorate than in 2008, an outcome contrary to the media narrative of a disenchanted youth alienated from the political process. Obama's share of the young vote declined a bit, but he still won it well in excess of 20 points.

    What we learned from the election

    In the final days before the election, hopeful Republicans played up polls showing Romney running away with the independent vote. It didn't pan out. Romney won independents by 4% -- a healthy 12-point swing for the GOP compared to 2008 -- but it wasn't nearly enough to save the former Massachusetts governor.

    Republicans also hoped a 7-point Democratic Party ID turnout edge over the GOP in 2008 would shrivel this time around. It didn't. Democrats maintained a 6-point edge on Tuesday.

    In the critical Rust Belt state of Ohio, Obama may have been saved by the 2009 auto industry bailout. Ohio voters approved of the bailout by a 23-point margin, and bailout supporters in the Buckeye State backed the president over Romney by about 50 points.

    Obama makes history again

    Perhaps in a related vein, Obama won 42% of working class whites in Ohio, compared to 36% of working class whites nationwide -- a critical difference in the tightly contested state.

    Where does the GOP go from here? The Republican brand remains extremely strong among southern whites and religious voters in particular. Conservative leaders can find solace both in their tightening grip on the House of Representatives and a promising political bench featuring rising stars like Wisconsin rep. Paul Ryan, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, to name just a few.

    But even the most cursory glance at the results of the past two presidential elections makes it clear that the Republican Party is now facing a growing demographic problem. It risks permanently losing a new generation of Americans -- a generation central to Obama's twin White House victories.

    How Republicans address this problem will play a huge role in determining the shape of American politics long after Obama himself has exited the political stage.

    Analysis: Obama won with a better ground game

        Election 2012

      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
      • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
      • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

        The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
      • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.