Changing demographics among supporters have reshaped the coalition.
Talking about "Hearts, Minds and the 2012 Election" Thursday evening, National Journal Group's Editorial Director Ron Brownstein posed a question about the changing demographics of the Democratic Party: "Is this a party that makes sense as kind of an upstairs-downstairs coalition, primarily now of minority voters and then more socially liberal, right of, maybe economically moderate white-collar workers?"
By endorsing gay marriage, championing free contraception in health insurance plans (over resistance from the Catholic Church), and administratively legalizing young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, Obama has repeatedly subordinated the concerns of older and blue-collar whites to the preferences of the Democrats' emerging coalition: minorities, young people, and culturally liberal college-educated whites, especially women. "He's taking positions that are strongly opposed by culturally conservative whites, basically conceding that he is going to do poorly among them, in a conscious effort to increase enthusiasm among the coalition that put him in office," says GOP pollster Whit Ayres.
Each strand of that Democratic "coalition of the ascendant," as I've called it, is growing as a share of the electorate. But Obama's tightening embrace of its priorities nonetheless represents a historic gamble. Romney could still beat him by amassing large enough margins among the economically strained, culturally conservative older, and blue-collar whites whom Obama's recent decisions may further provoke.
The president isn't conceding those voters, who once anchored his party's base.... But far more than previous Democratic nominees, Obama seems willing to risk alienating them.... Win or lose, Obama seems destined to speed the Democrats' evolution away from the New Deal coalition centered on working-class whites toward one that revolves around the two titanic social forces he embodies: rising education levels and growing diversity.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who was on the panel along with comedian Harry Shearer, BET CEO Debra Lee, CNN Political Director Mark Preston, and former congressman Mickey Edwards, worried that this upper-income tilt might undermine the historic progressive impulse of the party.