The Multiracial Face of the Democratic Party

A major takeaway from Obama's win is how people of all races formed a coalition to re-elect him decisively.

President Obama with other 2012 voters (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama with other 2012 voters (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

(The Root) — For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And so today it seems almost serendipitous that the xenophobic campaign employed to undermine and delegitimize President Obama laid the very seeds of the GOP’s electoral demise on Nov. 6, 2012.

Obama’s Electoral College victory of 332 to 206 was achieved because of the disproportionate support he received from Asian Americans, African Americans and Latinos. Much of the postelection analysis has claimed that these results could have been read in the tea leaves of the 2010 census. But Obama’s rainbow coalition wasn’t just about numbers and demographic shifts — his success reflects changing attitudes about racial identity, social cohesion and a growing cooperation among minority communities.

Obama’s strong showing of 93 percent among African Americans was all but guaranteed, but the true game changer came with winning 73 percent of the Asian-American vote and 71 percent of the Latino vote. Asians in particular, who tend to be a wealthier, more educated minority population, have remained an elusive swing-voter bloc for decades. Bill Clinton received only 31 percent of their vote in 1992, and Al Gore won 54 percent in 2000. Their decisive support of President Obama might have a lot to do with immigration policy and Republican rhetoric.

Despite the immigration debates being so heavily focused on Latinos, Asians actually outpace Hispanics in population growth, jumping from 11.9 million in the U.S. in 2000 to 17.3 million in 2010 — a 46 percent increase — and two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born. They have settled in key swing states like Arizona, Virginia and Nevada (where they outnumber the much-touted Mormon population).

This is the demographic reality in which Republicans waged a culture war demonizing China, the largest of all Asian countries, and framing Obama’s Kenyan heritage as inherently problematic. It seems that the GOP made a terrible error: assuming that only black Americans would hear their coded denigrations that the president needed to “learn how to be an American.” Perhaps they assumed that Latinos and Asians wouldn’t take offense at the Birther calls for Obama to “show his birth certificate” or the “pernicious narrative” that blacks and Latinos are “dependent on government.”

Asian Americans can hail from Korea, Vietnam, China, the Philippines or South Asian nations like Pakistan, India and beyond. Latinos share an equally diverse heritage, from the Caribbean to Mexico and throughout Central and South America. But their journey to the United States is in no way different from that of European immigrants who flooded the halls of Ellis Island in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

And herein lies the tone deafness of GOP xenophobic dogma. In the same way that African-American voters were galvanized by restrictive voter-ID laws that reminded them of poll taxes, water hoses and men in white sheets, Asians and Latinos heard the dog whistles and responded in kind.