Thursday, November 15, 2012

Obama's Election in Alaska: Highest Percentage for Democrat for President Since 1968

Alaska voted more "pro-Obama" in the 2012 presidential election than in 2008, one of four states where President Barack Obama garnered a higher percentage than four years ago.  This happened despite the fact that President Obama received 954 fewer votes in Alaska in 2012 than in 2008. Turnout of registered voters decreased significantly in Alaska in 2012.

According to the final official results from the State of Alaska Division of Elections, President Obama won 40.81 percent, 2.92 percentage points higher than in 2008 (37.89 percent).  In forty-four states and the District of Columbia, Obama's share declined from 2008.  Only in Alaska, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York did Obama's percentage rise in 2012 compared to 2008.  Obama's increase was largest in Alaska.

Until 2012, the last time that a Democratic presidential nominee exceeded 40 percent in Alaska was 44 years ago.  In 1968, Democratic Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey won 42.65 percent.  In the ten succeeding presidential elections (1972 to 2008), the Democratic presidential nominees won between 26.41 percent (President Jimmy Carter in 1980) and 37.89 percent (Sen. Barack Obama in 2008). 

To an Alaska outsider, it seem surprising that the best year for a Democratic presidential nominee during that 40-year period was in 2008, the year when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was on an opposing presidential ticket.  The poor performances of Democrats Al Gore in 2000 (27.67%, a 31 percentage point loss) and John Kerry and 2004 (35.52%, a 25 percentage point loss) suggested that Alaska was destined to become akin to Idaho or Wyoming, a stalwart Republican state in presidential elections.  Alaska is one of the nine states that has not been won by a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964 (along with Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma).  One would have thought that an Alaska governor's presence on the Republican ticket would have increased the Republican advantage in 2008, but that was not so.

Mr. Obama reduced the lag behind Republicans in Alaska from 20 percentage points in 2008 to 14 percentage points in 2012.  While Alaska is unlikely to become a "swing/battleground state" again any time soon (as it was in the 1960s), the "Last Frontier" cannot be characterized politically as "North Idaho."

One explanation for President Carter's poor performance in Alaska in 1980 is that Alaskans intensely disliked the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation bill that was then moving through Congress. President Carter signed it in a lame-duck session that December.  It designated several new national parks in Alaska.  President Carter enjoyed Alaska's recreational opportunities as president; he stopped there for a fishing expedition at Clarence Lake with Secretary of State Edmund Muskie while returning from a memorial service for Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira in Japan.  (President Carter recounted that experience at Mr. Muskie's funeral in 1996.)

The 2010 Census counted 710,000 residents of Alaska (ranked 48th among U.S. states).  The non-Hispanic white population in 2011 was 63.7 percent (very similar to the national figure of 63.4 percent).  The Native American/Alaska Native population is 14.9 percent, the highest of any state.  If changing demographics explain the rise in the Democratic vote for president in Alaska in 2008 and 2012, that demographic factor is not readily apparent.

Kyle Hopkins at the Anchorage Daily News reports that turnout was relatively low in the 2012 presidential election.  Turnout in Alaska was 59.57% in the November 2012 election, down significantly from the 66.03% turnout in the November 2008 election.  Whereas 326,197 valid ballots were cast for president in Alaska in 2008, just 300,495 valid ballots for president were tallied in 2012.  (The number of registered voters increased slightly from 495,731 in 2008 to 506,432 in 2012.)

Obama/Biden received 123,594 votes in 2008 compared to 122,640 votes in 2012.  Obama garnered 954 fewer votes than he did four years earlier yet his percentage of the total vote rose largely because the decline was much larger over four years for the Republican ticket.  McCain/Palin won 193,841 votes in 2008; Romney/Ryan won 164,676 ballots in 2012, a 29,165 vote decline.

The Libertarian Party is the only national political party that gained votes in the Alaska presidential election compared to 2008.  The Gary Johnson/James Gray ticket won 7,392 votes in Alaska in 2012, a steep rise from the 1,589 votes that the Barr/Root Libertarian ticket won there won in 2008.

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