March 7, 2012 | 11:37 AM
That coalition powered the
Republican Party's historic gains in 2010. That was an election in which seniors comprised an unusually large share of the overall electorate; the minority share of the vote declined more than usual between a presidential race and the succeeding midterm; and the GOP won the highest share of white voters it has ever captured in a Congressional election, according to polling dating back to 1948. In 2010, Republicans ran especially well with older whites, capturing fully 63 percent of them, exit polls found.
White and grey.
That's the clear pattern for turnout in the Republican presidential race over its first two months.
After Super Tuesday, exit polls have now been conducted in 14 states from all regions of the country. In all 14 of those states, white voters, and voters over 50, both comprised a significantly larger share of the electorate in this year's GOP primary than they did in the 2008 general election. In many cases, the gap on each front has been enormous.
These patterns underscore the extent to which the modern GOP coalition revolves around white voters-and increasingly, as the graying baby boom moves right, older white voters.
This November, though, the electorate almost certainly will be considerably younger and more tilted toward minorities than it was in 2010. Against that backdrop, the dominance of the GOP primary race by older whites could signal challenges for the party in reaching that broader universe of voters. It also increases the likelihood that the 2012 election will generate a titanic collision between a Democratic coalition that revolves around minorities
, younger voters and college-educated whites generally more comfortable with the demographic changes diversifying America; and an older, preponderantly white and heavily working-class Republican coalition heavily reliant on the voters most uneasy with those changes.
So far, according to exit polls
posted on CNN.com, whites have cast at least 90 percent of the votes in every Republican primary except Florida (83 percent) and Arizona (89 percent). In
every other state except Michigan (92 percent) and Nevada (90 percent) whites have comprised at least 94 percent of the GOP vote this year. That includes Georgia (94), Virginia (94), Ohio (96), Oklahoma (97), Tennessee (97), South Carolina (98), Massachusetts (98), Iowa (99), New Hampshire (99), and Vermont (99).
By comparison in the 2008 general election, whites cast only 74 percent of the total vote. As the minority share of the population continues to grow, President Obama's reelection campaign projects that whites will cast about 72 percent of the votes in the 2012 general election.
Minorities were only a trace presence in GOP primaries this year even in states with substantial levels of overall diversity. In Virginia, whites cast only 70 percent of the ballots in the 2008 general election; 24 percentage points less than their share in this week's GOP primary. In Ohio, whites were 83 percent of the 2008 general election vote, compared to their 96 percent in Tuesday's Republican vote. In South Carolina, whites cast 71 percent of the votes in November 2008, compared to their 98 percent in January's GOP primary. In Nevada, the state's burgeoning Hispanic population made almost no impression on the GOP race: minorities were 31 percent of the state's total vote in the 2008 presidential election, but only 10 percent in February's caucus.
The skew toward older voters has been at least as pronounced. Voters aged 50 or older have comprised a majority of the voters in every Republican contest for which exit polls have been conducted. By contrast, in the 2008 general election those older voters represented at least half of all voters only in one of those 14 states, Virginia. Overall, voters older than 50 cast 43 percent of the 2008 ballots, according to the national exit poll.
So far this year, though, voters fifty and older cast at least 70 percent of the Republican ballots in Florida (71) and Nevada (70); at least sixty percent in Massachusetts (64), Vermont (63), Georgia (62), Tennessee (62), Oklahoma (61), South Carolina (61), Virginia (61), and Iowa (60) and
Michigan (60); and at least 55 percent in Ohio (57), New Hampshire (56), Arizona (55).
Again, the gaps between those numbers and turnout in the 2008 general election often have been gaping. In Florida, voters over 50 represented 49 percent of the 2008 general election turnout, a 22-point gap with this year's Republican electorate. In Georgia, the difference was also 22 percentage points. In Oklahoma and South Carolina the gap was 19-percentage point between the older voter share of the 2012 Republican primary and the 2008 general electorate. Most strikingly, in 2008, only 41 percent of the Nevada electorate was 50 or older-29 percentage points less than the 70 percent in this year's Republican caucus.
An older-whiter coalition may be enough to allow the GOP to recapture some of the preponderantly white Midwestern swing states that Barack Obama won in 2008. But to break through in the new set of younger, diversifying and growing Sunbelt swing states-headlined by Virginia, North Carolina and Florida in the Southeast, and Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico in the Southwest-the eventual GOP nominee will need to reach well beyond the monochromatic electorate now dominating their primaries even in those rapidly changing states.