Friday, February 1, 2013

President Obama Is Giving Up on Right-Leaning Whites


With his suddenly aggressive second-term agenda, President Obama is recasting the Democratic Party around the priorities of the growing coalition that reelected him—and, in the process, reshaping the debate with the GOP in ways that will reverberate through 2016 and beyond.
On issues from gay rights to gun control, immigration reform, and climate change—all of which he highlighted in his ringing Inaugural Address last week—Obama is now unreservedly articulating the preferences of the Democratic “coalition of the ascendant” centered on minorities, the millennial generation, and socially liberal upscale whites, especially women. Across all of these issues, and many others such as the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan and ending the ban on women in combat, Obama is displaying much less concern than most national Democratic leaders since the 1960s about antagonizing culturally conservative blue-collar, older, and rural whites, many of whom oppose them.
This pattern may partly reflect the sense of liberation that close allies say Obama feels because he will never have to run for office again. But even more important than the fact of his reelection may be the nature of it. Obama in 2012 faced even larger electoral deficits than he had four years earlier among the culturally conservative white voters whom Democrats have often feared to alienate by moving too far left, particularly on social and foreign policy issues. Yet his strong support from the key groups in his coalition allowed to him to not just win but to win comfortably, capturing 332 Electoral College votes and becoming only the third Democratic president ever to reach at least 51 percent of the popular vote twice.
In his victory, Obama reshaped the Democratic coalition by both addition and subtraction. Because so many of the blue-collar and older whites who formerly anchored the conservative end of the Democratic base abandoned Obama, and because more-liberal voters took their place, the coalition that reelected him was much more ideologically unified around a left-leaning agenda than has been usual for a Democratic nominee.
That outcome, insiders acknowledge, gives the president greater confidence to move forward aggressively on these issues without fear of dividing his supporters. Equally important, the fact that Obama’s key groups are all expanding within the electorate has stirred optimism among his advisers that the coalition of the ascendant could provide Democrats a durable advantage in presidential elections.