The Multiracial Face of the Democratic Party

Edward Wyckoff Williams
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.

So much of my work has focused on exposing subversive Republican tactics and Jim Crow-style politics: educating potential voters about America's long, dark history and how racially divisive strategies still work with key demographics — namely some white voters. My fear was that Mitt Romney and those committed to "taking back our country" would successfully steal the presidential election — by suppressing votes, exploiting racial animus and, perhaps, even rigging voter machines and discarding legitimate ballots.


But my fears appear to have been overrated and overindulged. It was difficult to hear and see through the smoke screens of the Republican Party's race-based war on Barack Obama. I, too, had become convinced of the enemy behind the imaginary Maginot Line: not the anti-colonialist, radical-socialist invention of Dinesh D'Souza and Newt Gingrich, but the angry white man who worships at the altar of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Thankfully, it was all a mirage, and the rainbow coalition did not discriminate: Obama's showing among blue-collar whites in the Rust Belt was strong, despite Romney's lead among white voters nationally. And 56 percent of all Obama voters were white.


This is key, and has real consequences for how we should now see our body politic. No longer can politicians, pundits or partisan operatives lazily assume that the American electorate is so black and white. Beige and brown have become the order of the day, and even white voters can see through the dated race-baiting intended to manipulate them.

Of course, Obama's success required hard work and strategy as well. The president's Chicago team brilliantly employed a well-organized ground game of volunteers alongside a sophisticated system of analytics. It allowed them to micro-target everyone from blue-collar whites in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa; African Americans and independents from Denver to Portland, Ore.; and young Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans in Miami-Dade, Fla. This reflects the new face of an increasingly diverse electorate.


In the wake of defeat, Republicans are now touting a need to adjust their outreach and messaging — especially to Latino voters — but what is actually needed is a full repudiation of the racist, xenophobic elements within the GOP. It has been tolerated for far too long, and window-dressing the problem with a Herman Cain or Marco Rubio won't solve the problem.

If Asians, Latinos and African Americans continue to find common ground — both in social policy and in social identity — the Republican Party may well find itself marginalized and beholden to a dying demographic. And as Arizona and Texas, with their wealth of electoral votes, become increasingly diverse, that fate seems all but certain.


Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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