Political Animal


February 01, 2013 5:11 PM Have Demographics “Liberated” Obama?

By Ed Kilgore

I’m always interested in Ron Browstein’s analysis, and his latest National Journal column grapples with one of the central issues of this stage of the Obama administration: has the electoral superiority of Obama’s “coalition of the ascendent” finally “liberated” him and his party from the dependence on moderate-to-conservative white swing voters—to oversimplify massively, the “Reagan Democrats”—that has inhibited past straightfowardly progressive messages and policies?

In 2012, Obama lost more than three-fifths of noncollege whites and whites older than 45; he carried only one-third of noncollege white men, the worst performance of any Democratic nominee since Walter Mondale was buried in Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide. Yet Obama nonetheless won a solid victory by posting strong numbers with minorities (a combined 80 percent), the millennials (60 percent), and college-educated white women (46 percent overall and more in many key states); moreover, each of those groups expanded its share of the total vote. (For the first time, white women with college degrees cast more votes last year than white men without them.)….
The result is that the president, to a striking extent, appears unshackled from the fear of alienating conservative white voters that has shaped the way the party has governed since cultural and foreign policy issues (such as civil rights and the Vietnam War) shattered the economically based New Deal coalition in the 1960s.

There’s a lot more to read, and aside from quoting a few people who think the new and more liberal coalition is fragile, Brownstein does note the “Obama coalition” cannot produce regular congressional majorities, a structural problem that involves the small-state domination of the Senate, gerrymandering and “vote distribution” in the House, and the midterm turnout advantage of the GOP that isn’t going away any time soon.

But there’s another question that is equally important: does Obama really have any choice? Will a more “moderate” policy direction or message produce anything other than confusion at a time of asymetrical polarization when there is virtually nothing he can do to force Republicans into serious negotiations? And even if he somehow can, will that produce policies that actually help the country, or just create an incoherent and self-canceling mess?

I’m increasingly convinced that Democratic centrists would be better advised to promote their favored policies on the merits instead of as bipartisanship-bait, which at the moment just is not a credible approach. And if Democrats do indeed need to improve their performance among elements outside the “Obama coalition”—and in the short term, they do if they ever want a sizable congressional majority and control of a majority of states—they should focus on what these voters actually do and do not favor instead of assuming “moderate” rhetoric will do the trick.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • David in NY on February 01, 2013 5:23 PM:

    Democratic centrists would be better advised to promote their favored policies on the merits instead of as bipartisanship-bait, which at the moment just is not a credible approach.

    Stop the hippie bashing please. And get with the program.

    Except they won't.

  • Steve on February 01, 2013 5:37 PM:

    That must be why the new "progressive" Obama just caved on contraception.

    Man, I hope this new Liberal wind doesn't blow my hat off.

  • c u n d gulag on February 01, 2013 6:09 PM:

    Since they fundamentally disagree with virtually every single issue (except for the Whoreporatist Democratic DINO's), take EVERY one of those issues, and beat the Republicans over their feckin' heads with it.

    Jayzoos H. Keerist, selling Judas for 2 silver coins, undermining him, THE REBUBLICANS WOULD - WILL - DO IT TO FECKIN' YOU, YOU FECKIN' MENTAL MIDGITS!!!

    That some Liberal schmuck in Upstate NY has to say that, or expain that, is testamony to how weak the Democratic Parties "intellectuals" really are!!!

  • Robert Waldmann on February 01, 2013 6:24 PM:

    Great post. I'd like to guess what you have in mind. I think it is clear that non college educated whites and whites over 45 care greatly about two issues -- social security and Medicare -- and are fairly enthusiastic about raising taxes on family income over $ 250,000 to psy for them. Clearly appealing to what they/we (I'm 52 but college educated) say to pollsters is not the path to bipartisan compromise and will not please centrist pundits.

    A bonus is that the soak the rich to save Medicare platform is also supported by a majority of self described Republicans.