In his first post-election interview, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said he was surprised by the overwhelming strength of the Obama turnout machine in the nation’s cities. “When we saw the turnout that was occurring in urban areas that [was] unprecedented, it did come as a bit of a shock,” Ryan told a Wisconsin television station Tuesday. “So those are the toughest losses to have — the ones that catch you by surprise.” For reasons that are not entirely clear, some Democrats, and some in the press, find that observation troubling.
“Certainly those types of comments do not suggest that those who lost last Tuesday are interested in an open dialogue about the challenges that our communities face,” said Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League, in an interview with the New York Times. The paper used quotation marks — “Ryan Surprised by Voters in ‘Urban Areas’” — to suggest there was something notable about the word “urban.” The paper even dredged through Twitter to find angry, anonymous commenters suggesting Ryan had been out of line. “Paul Ryan emerged from dustbin of nothingness 2 blame his & Romney’s defeat on ‘urban’ vote,” said one Tweet quoted by the paper. “These 2 losers continue 2 demean minorities.”
Obviously, Ryan’s critics believed he used the word “urban” as a synonym for black or, more generally, for minorities, and was somehow insensitive when attributing Obama’s victory to minority support. But minority support was, in fact, a huge part of the president’s win. Of course that victory is not solely attributable to any group or area; the president needed all the votes he got to prevail. But why, for example, would the political class be engaged in an extended discussion of the Republican Party’s problems with Hispanics, African-Americans, and other minorities if not for their important role in the outcome?
As for Ryan being surprised by the degree of that support, there were a number of observers who were surprised, for example, that black voters made up 15 percent of the Ohio electorate when they had been 11 percent in 2008. Part of that was due to white voters not showing up at the polls, but it’s also clear that Team Obama, like George W. Bush in 2004, quite brilliantly managed to find more voters in groups that already heavily supported the president. A number of Republicans, and some Democrats, too, were surprised by that success.
And that vote was centered in those traditional Democratic strongholds also known as urban areas. As a matter of fact, if you look at the exit polls, you will find that the president won urban areas by huge margins while Mitt Romney won suburban, small town, and rural areas by smaller margins.
The exit pollsters divided the country into five different categories based on population. Areas with populations over 500,000 made up 11 percent of the electorate, and Obama won them 69 percent to 29 percent. Areas with populations of 50,000 to 500,000 made up 21 percent of the electorate, and Obama won those places 58 percent to 40 percent.
Suburbs made up 47 percent of the electorate, and Romney won them narrowly, 50 percent to 48 percent. Areas with populations of 10,000 to 50,000 made up eight percent of the electorate, and Romney won them 56 percent to 42 percent. Finally, rural areas made up 14 percent of the electorate, and Romney won them 61 percent to 37 percent.
In a perhaps unintentionally funny reading of the results, the Times wrote that, “There is some anecdotal evidence to back up the analysis that Mr. Obama was helped by his appeal in the nation’s population centers.” There’s no need to rely on anecdote: Mr. Obama was, in fact, helped by his appeal in the nation’s population centers. There’s nothing untoward in saying so, nor even in using the word “urban.” Now, should it have been a surprise to Paul Ryan that Obama was as strong in urban areas in 2012 as he had been in 2008, even as his support fell in suburban, small town, and rural areas? A lot of Republicans were surprised by a lot of things on November 6.