The untold history of election night

History was made last night, but in more ways than one. We elected the nation’s first black president. We also witnessed Hispanic and African-American voters play huge roles in Barack Obama’s success. But perhaps more importantly, we saw that race was not the strongest force at play, perhaps an indicator of how far we’ve come as a country.

African-American voter participation jumped 20 percent in yesterday’s election compared to four years ago, and they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. The Hispanic vote was split between Obama and McCain, and buoyed Obama’s margins of victory. The Hispanic vote played a huge role in Obama winning the swing state of New Mexico.

These voters were joined by college-educated white voters, whose support also tipped towards Obama. White voters without a college education more often voted for McCain.

And the majority of voters who considered race an issue actually thought favorably about Obama’s race. So the voters’ thinking on race wasn’t necessarily negative, unlike the presumptions of the ‘Bradley effect‘ prognosticators and analysts prior to the election.

What do all these trends mean? They mean we crossed the artificial confines of race identifications and joined forces over one potently powerful concern – our financial welfare. Exit polls showed more than 60 percent of voters were most concerned about the economy. The pocket book trumped all. The issues of terrorism and the Iraq war each registered as the top priority for about 10 percent of voters.

And while we were concerned about our financial welfare, it was in terms of the larger economy. Most voters expected that they’d be seeing higher taxes in the next administration – especially under an Obama presidency. But that didn’t seem to deter their vote.

And so it seems a strange stroke of history that the first black president of the U.S. was elected not just because he is a representation of a growing portion of the American electorate, but more importantly because he inspired more confidence in leadership over the economy. Perhaps it is indeed an indication of how much we’ve evolved as a country that race proved little hurdle at a time of great trial.

To employ a cliche that proved as true last night as it did in Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 bid: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

James Carville, how right you were – and are.


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