Hispanics on the Rise
Latinos increased their share of the electorate, to 10% from 9% in 2008. They supported Obama even more solidly than they did four years ago, when 67% backed him. This time, 69% did. Romney's 29% share of the Hispanic vote was lower than that for any Republican presidential candidate since Bob Dole in 1996.
African Americans made up a record 13%; more than nine of 10 backed Obama, the nation's first black president.
Put another way, 72% of the electorate was white, the lowest ever and a stunning drop in just two decades. In 1992, it had stood at 87%.
The rising number of minority voters will challenge the GOP.
"If Romney was going to win, it was by getting a larger and larger share of the white vote," Ayres says. "At some point, you run out of votes to get that way. A larger-and-larger piece of a smaller-and-smaller share of the pie ultimately becomes a losing proposition."
"This may be the last 'white' presidential candidate -- in the sense of a candidate appealing to only white voters," Frey says of Romney.
Then there were women, targeted by both campaigns as key swing voters. They comprised 54% of the electorate, and they supported Obama by 12 points in an election with a huge 25-point gender gap.
White Voters Still Majority
Whites still make up 72% of the electorate, though, and Democratic strategists express concern about the decline in the party's support from them. Obama's share of the white vote, 43% in 2008, dropped to 40%.
"Republicans are the aging party; Democrats are the younger party built around the new demography of the country," says Simon Rosenberg of the NDN, formerly called the New Democratic Network. "You'd much prefer to be where the Democrats are, strategically. But clearly the Democrats have to be concerned about the erosion of white voters."
Obama did well among highly educated white women, and a populist appeal against Romney as a corporate boss helped him hold a share of blue-collar whites in the battleground Midwest, Frey says. But he adds: "You can't just get by on these very small segments of the white population and hope minorities will carry you through, at least in the short term."
Seniors vs. Millennials
Then there's age. Romney was backed by double digits among seniors, those 65 and older, while Obama carried voters under 30 by double digits.
Obama had focused on energizing younger voters; many of his campaign rallies took place on college campuses. Even so, he suffered his biggest drop-off among voters 18 to 29 years old.
Those under 30 had backed Democrat John Kerry over George W. Bush in 2004 by 54%-45%, and the Democratic edge jumped to 66% for Obama in 2008.
This time, he got about six in 10 votes of these younger voters.
Among younger voters, African Americans and Hispanics slipped slightly in their support; the significant erosion was among white voters under 30. In 2008, they had backed Obama by 10 points. This time, they support Romney by eight.
Overall, the country was divided between those under 40 (who supported Obama by double digits) and those over 40 (who supported Romney by nine points).
Super PACs trump parties
The new breed of superPACs and their billionaire backers shaped the presidential race at every point in the campaign.
In the GOP primaries, the groups that allow unlimited contributions from donors enabled Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to continue battling for the Republican nomination even after disappointing showings would have forced them out in previous contests.
Pro-Romney super PACs provided a crucial counterweight to Obama campaign ads in the summer. And they kept Romney competitive in ad spending in the fall.
"These outside groups, essentially acting as shadow campaigns of the candidates, are going to be a dominant part of election campaigning for the foreseeable future," says Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance expert at Colby College in Maine. "You have party-aligned groups and non-profit organizations essentially approaching these elections as a team sport."
That has undercut the political parties, which face legal limits that the super PACs don't.
"Political parties are laughably anachronistic," says Nathan Daschle, former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association and a founder of ruck.us, an online political engagement organization. "Voters are increasingly behaving like consumers, and modern-day consumers have far less brand loyalty than they did a decade ago."
On that and other aspects of American politics, the times are changing.
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