Democracy won!



Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx talks with residents of Brunswick on election day, 2008.

Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

February 13th, 2009 

Along with Barack Obama, there was another big winner on Election Day: democracy. As we move into this new era, it’s good to reflect on the electorate that is bringing change to Washington, DC.

Just after 11 pm, when CNN reported that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States, waves of relief swept the nation as a blanket of oppression was lifted. Tears, cheers, and dancing in the streets ensued. The country has a new mandate, a new direction. Democracy won.

“I love democracy!” said Chad Dufaud, a freshman at Bowdoin College from Colorado. “We have a say in our government with our vote.” When asked what he thought about Obama’s call to action, for people to work in communities, he said, “I volunteer at the local homeless shelter, and honestly I get more out if it at the end of the day than I put into it. If you volunteer, you know you are helping out in your democracy, and that makes you feel you’ve made a difference.”

“It’s so exciting, I woke up today and almost cried,” said Katherine McNeil from San Francisco, a freshman at Bowdoin College. “Putting that physical mark down on the ballot made it all real, it was empowering. Up until now I didn’t have a say in who led this country.”

Over 133 million people turned out to vote last November — 11 million more than voted in 2004 — producing the highest turnout rate in 44 years (62.5 percent). By way of comparison, the turnout rate in 1996 was just over 49 percent.

One of the most noteworthy trends was the makeup of the electorate.

In 2000, whites accounted for 81 percent of all voters. This year, that number fell to 74 percent, the result of an increase in both African American and Hispanic turnout. That is a huge demographic shift.

Those two groups, along with young voters, ended up having a tremendous impact on the outcome of the 2008 race.

In 2004, Kerry outperformed Bush with Hispanic voters 59 percent to 40 percent. In 2008, the Hispanic vote went 67 percent for Obama, and only 31 percent for McCain — a net improvement of 17 points.

In 2004, Hispanic voters in the Sunshine State went for Bush over Kerry 55 percent to 44 percent; this election Obama beat McCain among Florida Hispanics 57 to 42 — a remarkable 26-point swing.

Hispanic voters made the difference in Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico.

Next up, young voters: Around 2.2 million more young people voted than did in 2004, accounting for 18 percent of the electorate, and they overwhelmingly voted for Obama: 66 percent to 32 percent — a 34-point spread. That’s 25 percent more than the 9-point youth vote advantage Kerry had over Bush.

Had the Democratic 18-29 vote stayed the same as 2004’s percentage, Obama would have won by about 2 points, but he would not have won 73 electoral votes from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Indiana.

We are witnessing a tremendous ideological shift among young voters — one that could reshape our politics for decades to come. From 1976 through 2004, young voters basically supported the same candidate as older voters in most elections. During that time, the average gap in presidential choice between young voters and the overall electorate was only 1.8 percent. In 2008, that gap was 28 percent, with Obama winning by 6 percent — and carrying the youth vote by 34 percent.

Hannah Pingree, House Speaker in ME, Chellie Pingree, US Rep. from ME, Libby Mitchell, ME Sen. President and AG Janet Mills celebrate victories.

Some other numbers:

Obama won among both women (56/43) and men (49/48). Whites favored McCain (55/43), but blacks gave Obama 95 percent of their vote, and Hispanics went for Obama 66/31.

Obama carried voters 18-29 (66/32), 30-44 (52/46), and 45-64 (50/49). The only group McCain carried was voters 65 and older (53/45) — 16 percent of the electorate.

Obama also won in almost every size city. He carried big cities 70/28 (home to 11 percent of voters), small cities 59/39 (home to 19 percent of voters), and the suburbs 50/48 (home to 49 percent of voters). McCain won in small towns and rural areas 53/45 (home to 21 percent of voters).

In Maine, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap projected 80 percent participation among registered voters. There were 30,000 new voters and a record of more than 233,000 absentee ballots cast.

“For all intents and purposes we can consider it a record level turnout,” said Don Cookson, spokesman from the Secretary of State’s Office.

All in all, it was a great election for democracy.