9 Surprising Facts About the Obama Coalition

By Michelle Diggles

As any experienced campaign staffer will tell you, presidential elections hinge on the ground game. As they head into the final sprint, the Clinton campaign is focused on identifying and turning out many of the same voters who gave Barack Obama eight years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But when pundits describe the members of the “Obama Coalition,” their descriptions often gloss over — or leave out altogether — some key groups.

Based on analysis of the 2012 National Election Pool Exit Polls, here are nine facts about President Obama’s winning electoral coalition that might surprise you.

The Make-up of Obama’s “Big Tent” Coalition

President Obama’s supporters ran the gamut on age, race, religion, and ideology in 2012.

Ideology: President Obama’s coalition was ideologically diverse: 45.5% were moderates, 42.7% were liberals, and 11.8% were conservatives. Contrary to the stereotype of a rising liberal majority delivering reelection victory, 57.3% of President Obama’s voters were actually moderate or conservative.

Age: While younger voters got much of the attention in post-election analyses in 2012, President Obama’s coalition was all ages: 50.5% of his supporters were under 45 years old while 49.5% were 45 and older.

Race & Ethnicity: President Obama’s coalition mirrored America’s diverse population. In 2012, 55.5% of his supporters were white, 23.9% were black, 4.3% were Asian, and 14% were Hispanic.

Religion: More than 70% of President Obama’s voters were self-identified Christians in 2012.

President Obama’s big tent coalition included voters of all ages, races, ideologies, and ethnicities. He also posted some surprising numbers among key groups in the electorate.

#Winning: The Many Faces of Obama’s Supporters

Aside from staggering support among Hispanic and nonwhite voters (whom President Obama won 80% to 18%), there are many other groups of voters who supported the President’s reelection in 2012:

Moderates: While analysts tend to focus on how liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans vote, the largest groups of voters are moderates, who comprised 41% of the electorate in 2012 and the plurality in every election of the modern era. President Obama won 56% of moderates in 2012. He also won 86% of liberals, but at 25% of the electorate, they made up a much smaller proportion of the electorate than conservatives (35%).

Independents: President Obama won 45% of Independents in 2012, while Mitt Romney won 50% of them. That year, Independents made up 29% of voters nationwide. However, there were more Democrats (38% of voters) than Republicans (32% of voters). Hillary Clinton won’t need to win a majority of Independents, since Democrats usually outnumber Republicans, just a sizeable chunk of them.

Young Voters: Younger voters have tended to support Democratic candidates in recent elections. In 2012, President Obama won 60% of 18–29 year olds. But he also won 52% of 30–44 year olds.

Ladies: President Obama won 55% of female voters in 2012, including 67% of unmarried women. But he lost married women 46% to 53%.

In God We Trust: President Obama won 50% of Catholics and 42% of Protestants in 2012.

President Obama’s big tent coalition in 2012 was diverse and represented Americans of all stripes. Victory for Democrats in 2016 will require building on that support — winning significant shares of moderates, Christians, women, Independents, and voters under 45.


Michelle Diggles, Ph.D, is the Senior Political Analyst at Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank in Washington, D.C. Michelle analyzes public opinion to help Third Way and policy leaders, journalists, and advocates understand the center of the American electorate. Follow her on Twitter at @Diggles.