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Election 2012: Shot at and Missed

The battle is over, and pundits now stroll to the battlefield and shoot the survivors. I have used this bully pulpit to urge that Indians bloc vote only when threatened as Indians. My own vote turned on threats I perceived to my family. Your mileage may vary.

Before I parse the numbers, I must observe that, as usual, hard numbers on American Indian voters are hard to find outside of states with huge reservations where everybody has to pay attention to the Indian vote, both whether it will come out and which side will benefit if it does.

Anecdotal evidence tells me President Obama carried the Indian vote by substantial margins, in spite of the fact that my Indian relationships are skewed towards Cherokees, who are historically Republicans.

The last Cherokee Chief, Chad Smith, was a Republican. The current Chief, Bill John Baker, is a Democrat. That had nothing to do with my vote. I vote tribal elections on tribal issues, and I’m sure most Indians do the same. A certain skepticism about endorsements from tribal leaders follows from that, although I don’t doubt that tribal leadership can inform Indian voters when there is an Indian fighter on the ballot.

Let’s see what this particular fight says about the US political landscape.

Obama got 93 percent of the African-American vote. Some say this is racist—ignoring the many times blacks vote for non-black candidates over black candidates. A black judge ran for my judicial office, and while he carried 8 black precincts, I ate into his margins and carried the black vote overall by 55 percent. I think black ears are more finely attuned to the racial dog whistles the Republicans were blowing.

Obama got 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and 73 percent of the Asian vote. To claim these people are racists is not tenable because Obama is neither Hispanic nor Asian. Furthermore, the first President Bush carried the Asian vote and the second President Bush got more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.

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Neither Hispanics nor Asians have even as much in common as American Indians, who have very little in common. A Chinese and a Filipino? A Peruvian and a Cuban? A Cherokee and a Comanche? Seriously, folks, to get these people to vote together, you have to threaten them together.

Speaking of threats, how did the Republican war on women play out? If you think that war is an invention of Democrats, make a line graph of statutes limiting abortion over time. Consider the constitutional amendment Romney endorsed to make a person of an embryo, calling into question in vitro fertilization (which destroys embryos) and birth control pills (which prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus). Romney was also unable to endorse the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, allowing women to sue when they find out that are not getting equal pay for equal work. Looks like a war on women to me. Have they no daughters?

Anyway, Obama got 55 percent of the women’s vote, which is important because more women vote than men. However, he lost white women, garnering only 42 percent. He really cleaned up among single women at 68 percent. The status of being single overlaps substantially with ethnic minorities and with youth.

Obama not only took the youth vote again, but the youth vote came out in greater numbers than 2008, which was then a high for young voters. Some of that had to be economic, because Obamacare kept people on their parents’ health insurance to age 26 and because Obama cut the banks out of student loans, where they were making big bucks for no risk (because the loans are federally guaranteed). Romney promised to cut the banks back in. Also, youths are near unanimous in despising discrimination against gay people. In my experience as a university teacher, this does not break down between liberals and conservatives. Kids just don’t care who other people sleep with or marry.

Obama got 76 percent among voters who self-identify as lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered. While self-ID as American Indian is an overcount, self-ID as LGBT is an undercount. Gay marriage was enacted by voters in Maryland, Maine, and Washington, and an attempt to ban it was beaten in Minnesota. Gay rights is an issue defined by age, and the opponents are dying off.

Never mind gay marriage, approximately a fourth of people in the Deep South still think interracial marriage (which historically applied to Indians as well as blacks) should be illegal, in spite of President Obama being a product of an interracial marriage. Or maybe because of it?

Conservatives can win on this demographic playing field. Bigots can’t win. Wingnuts can’t win. A party that appeals to the anxiety and fear of white people can’t win nationally, because that appeal arouses anxiety and fear in everybody else and can only go so far. About 48 percent in this election, and it’s all downhill from here.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.