Why GOP won: Shifting white votes hurt Democrats

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WASHINGTON (AP) - White voters of all ages were less likely to back Democrats this year than in elections past, helping Republicans nationwide but most acutely in the South - and overpowering Democratic efforts to turn out their core supporters among blacks and Hispanics.

In a nation growing ever more diverse, political forecasters repeatedly warn Republicans they must improve their appeal among minorities in order to remain competitive in the long term.

But for the Democrats, dominating the vote among minorities isn't enough to win elections today - and it won't be in the future if the GOP is able to run up similar margins among whites, who still make up a majority of voters in every state.

"The rule of thumb was Democrats could win with 90 percent of the African-American vote and 40 percent of the white vote," said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

"But now very few Democrats could think about getting 40 percent of the white vote. They're trying to get 30 percent. In the Deep South states, from South Carolina to Louisiana, it's very hard for the Democratic candidate to get 25 percent of the white vote."

Nationally, Republicans running for seats in the U.S. House won 60 percent of the white vote, while Democrats won the backing of 89 percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Hispanics.

Those are nearly identical margins to the 2010 midterm elections. But Democrats won more of the white and Hispanic vote in 2006, the last midterm elections in which the party won control of the House. White voters last tilted in Democrats' favor in a midterm in 1990, and were a swing group in the 1980s.

The data on voters come from exit polls of voters nationally and in 27 states that were conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research. Most interviews were conducted among randomly selected voters at precincts nationwide and in each state.

Outside of the South, whites broke for Republicans by an average of 8 points on Tuesday. But in 10 Southern states with an election for Senate on the ballot, Republicans won the white vote by an average of 42 points. Democrats garnered so little support among whites in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas that a majority of those voting for the Democratic candidate were non-white.

In North Carolina, though incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan was widely credited with running a solid campaign, she carried just 33 percent of the white vote - down from 39 percent in 2008 - and lost. White voters under age 30 backed Hagan by close to a 2-to-1 margin six years ago as they helped to sweep President Barack Obama into office.

This time, in a midterm election, the younger white voters who cast ballots in North Carolina broke just as decisively for Hagan's Republican opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Steve Rosenthal, president of the Organizing Group, a Democratic-leaning consulting firm, said he's been jokingly calling this election the Seinfeld election for Democrats - they had no national message that resonated with their voters.

"It was an election about nothing. Republicans made it an election about President Obama. That was their goal," he said. "Their mission was to turn out people who were angry, people who were displeased with the job the president has done."

It was a mistake for Democrats to distance themselves from the president, said Erik Smith, a former Obama campaign adviser and Democratic strategist. Democratic voters are not motivated to help candidates who were happy to be with Obama two years ago, but tried to avoid his presence this year, he said.

"I'm sure (it) led a lot of these voters to say, 'How is this candidate going to treat me in two years?'" he said.

The only states in which Democratic Senate candidates improved their overall support among whites were Minnesota, Oregon and Mississippi, a Southern state where Travis Childers managed to grow the Democratic share of the white vote from 8 percent in 2008 to 16 percent.

Democratic voters were especially less engaged in states where there were not supposed to be competitive elections, said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who tracks voter turnout.

Democratic voters are traditionally more likely to stay home if the midterm races are uninspiring, while Republican voters - who tend to be older, wealthier and more educated and also are more likely to be white - generally come to the polls anyway, he said.

"The poster child for this would be Virginia. It's an uncompetitive race according to all the polls. In that environment, who sits out the election? It's predominantly Democrats," McDonald said.

Two days after the election, while heavily favored incumbent Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner had a lead of a few thousand votes out of more than 2 million cast, the race remained too close to call.

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Why GOP won: Shifting white votes hurt Democrats
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 6: Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds his first press conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, following the Republican wave midterm elections. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
FILE- These 2014 file photos show, from left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. They will be the top three players in political Washington for the next two years: President Barack Obama, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo, File)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. Boehner said the Republican-controlled Congress will act to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, make changes in the health care law and encourage businesses to hire more veterans. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky holds a news conference on the day after the GOP gained enough seats to control the Senate in next year's Congress and make McConnell majority leader, in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. With sweeping victories that exceeded their own sky-high expectations, Republicans dealt the Democrats and President Barack Obama the most devastating electoral defeat of his presidency, gaining the power to shape the direction of America's government in the next two years. His first meeting with reporters since winning a sixth term in the midterm election, the senator was speaking at the University of Louisville's McConnell Center for political studies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama is holding an afternoon news conference Wednesday to share his take on the midterm election results after his party lost control of the Senate, and lost more turf in the GOP-controlled House while putting a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama smiles at a reporter after saying that he's missed speaking to the reporters, as he is asked a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama is holding an afternoon news conference Wednesday to share his take on the midterm election results after his party lost control of the Senate, and lost more turf in the GOP-controlled House while putting a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a news conference in the East Room a day after Democrats lost the US Senate Majority, November 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Yesterday Republicans won the majority of the US Senate for the first time in 8 years after Americans went to the polls and voted in the mid-term elections. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama enters a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama is holding an afternoon news conference Wednesday to share his take on the midterm election results after his party lost control of the Senate, and lost more turf in the GOP-controlled House while putting a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky holds a news conference on the day after the GOP gained enough seats to control the Senate in next year's Congress and make McConnell majority leader, in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. With sweeping victories that exceeded their own sky-high expectations, Republicans dealt the Democrats and President Barack Obama the most devastating electoral defeat of his presidency, gaining the power to shape the direction of America's government in the next two years. His first meeting with reporters since winning a sixth term in the midterm election, the senator was speaking at the University of Louisville's McConnell Center for political studies. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama pause during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama is standing by his pledge to act on his own to reduce deportations and improve border security by the end of the year. Obama says he will take his own steps despite election results that gave Republicans control of Congress. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference in the East Room of the White House November 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke about last nights midterm election where Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives and took control of the Senate. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama, center, arrives to speak at a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Confronting Republican control of both houses of Congress for the first time during his administration, President Obama faces a dilemma: how to fight when there's political value while at the same time trying to rebuild bridges to lawmakers in the party. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference in the East Room of the White House on November 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama held the press conference one day after his Democratic party was defeated in midterm elections. President Obama congratulated his Republican opponents Wednesday on their midterm election victory and promised to work constructively with them in Congress for the next two years.'Obviously, Republicans had a good night and they deserve credit for running good campaigns,' he said, after Republicans took control of the Senate and strengthened their hold on the House of Representatives. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama, center, arrives to speak at a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Confronting Republican control of both houses of Congress for the first time during his administration, President Obama faces a dilemma: how to fight when there's political value while at the same time trying to rebuild bridges to lawmakers in the party. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: U.S. President Barack Obama walks away after speaking to the media during a news conference in the East Room a day after Democrats lost the US Senate Majority, November 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Yesterday Republicans won the majority of the US Senate for the first time in 8 years after Americans went to the polls and voted in the mid-term elections. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama says he'll certainly be spending more time with McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur), adding that's the only way the White House and Congress will be able to get anything done. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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