US election: Is it all really demographics?

Last updated 14:15 12/11/2012

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"Demographics" is the new buzz word following the US presidential election. Obama won the election by targeting specific demographics in key states, according to the pundits.

There are calls for the Republicans to reform, and appeal more to single women and Latinos. Dr Manny Alvarez has an interesting open letter to his party (the Republicans) and many are batting about Marco Rubio (of Cuban heritage) as a best bet for the Republicans in 2016. I have also suggested Mia Love, who lost her election during this race, but I think would still be a good option for the vice presidential  ticket.

Dr Alvarez, who works for Fox News, said: "My dear fellow Republicans, we need to go back to basics. The result of the election yesterday, at least for me, was a wake-up call... there is no way to avoid dealing with the fact that 16 per cent of the American population, which represents over 50 million people, are of Latino descent. I can tell you as a Latino myself, we may love our salsa music and our spicy food, but many of us desire the same things that all immigrants who have come to this country also wanted - a strong work force, a good education for our children and a place to take our sick."

Obama out-spent Romney 2-1 in Spanish-language ads.

But a cautionary modification. It can be a mistake to define people electorally based simply on their demographic.

The "Jewish vote", for example, went to Obama, despite the foreign policy controversies with Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel. One might have expected a higher Republican vote (Romney visited Israel early on).

However, "Jewish voters" are largely also New Yorkers (a Democrat town, Hillary Clinton's) and liberal. They vote on a variety of factors. Do they cast a vote as "Jewish," "New Yorker," or "Liberal". The same applies to Latinos, as Alvarez points out. Pollsters and political hacks are mistaken to obsess on simplistic "demographics".

Alvarez again: "I think that if the Republican Party wants to change, the way that we transmit our message has to be fundamentally recalculated. You literally have to go out and identify with the real problems of many Latino families. You have to alter their perceptions.

And whenever possible, you have to execute solutions, which have measurable outcomes to them - and then follow it up."

Defining these groups and understanding what issues and policies motivate them, is a key to winning. Obama did this better than the Republicans. It is clear he won the election on racial demographics too: Africa-American voters overwhelmingly supported Obama because of who he is, to a large extent Latinos did too.

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He is a symbol for these minority communities and that may override anything specific on policy or even the economy. They are voting on aspiration, history and deep sentiments related to their history, ethnicity and the America they want tomorrow.

I agree with psychiatrist and political commentator Charles Krauthammer, who says it is a mistake for the Republicans to swing too far in flagellating themselves over 2012 and morphing to fit demographic predictions for 2016. While I think it would be wise to consider ethnic candidates (for a change) that better connect with chunks of the electorate by nature; ideology, party branding and policy is equally important.

Just because the Republicans might select a Latino for the ticket in 2016 doesn't mean they'll win. The candidate has to be articulate, likeable, a good communicator, with no skeletons in his/her closet, warm, and able to campaign the course with energy, personality and money (ie they need to be rich, or have rich friends).

A candidate needs a whole bundle of attributes to win. Elections are not won by simply targeting demographics.

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