The Emerging Democratic Majority Turns 10

Why the new coalition could be here to stay.

Supporters watch Obama's acceptance speech on election night. (Andrew Kelly / Reuters)

Ten years ago, John Judis and I argued in The Emerging Democratic Majority that the country's shifting demographics were giving rise to a strong new Democratic-voting population base. The first glimmerings of this emerging Democratic coalition were visible in George McGovern's disastrous 1972 campaign, we wrote, making the newly emerging majority "George McGovern's Revenge." In the chapter with that title, we described the strengthening alliance between minorities, working and single women, the college educated, and skilled professionals:

What did it matter if McGovern won Alameda County and San Francisco but decisively lost Los Angeles and San Diego? Or that he did better among working women than men, and among professionals than blue collar workers, but still lost a majority of all these voters? Thirty years later, however, these anomalies loom larger. Women are still voting more Democratic than men, but they are also voting much more Democratic than Republican, particularly women who now work outside the home, single women and women with college degrees. Minorities, once about ten percent of the voting electorate, now constitute nineteen percent...They, too, are continuing to vote Democratic. Democrats are winning even more decisively in college towns, and these towns and their schools have become linked to entire regions like Silicon Valley and North Carolina's Research Triangle. And, skilled professionals have become a much larger and a dependably Democratic voting group.

We are now ten years farther down this road and McGovern's revenge only seems sweeter. Barack Obama has just been re-elected, the first Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt to win successive elections with more than 50 percent of the vote, powered by the continuing rise of the coalition described in the book. In the face of considerable economic adversity, Obama won 332 Electoral College votes, nine out of 10 of the most hotly contested swing states, and a second term with coalition that was stunningly diverse. Here are some of the most striking elements:

* Minority voters increased their share of the voting population. Voters in 2012 were 28 percent minority, an increase of 2 percentage points from the 2008 level and a massive 13 percentage point increased from the 1988 level of 15 percent. The share of African-American voters remained at its 2008 level, 13 percent, disproving predictions that black voter enthusiasm would flag and black voters would not turn out for the president a second time. Hispanics, in line with their growing share of the electorate, increased their share at the polls to 10 percent from 8.5 percent in 2008 -- and did so despite similar skepticism about their level of voter enthusiasm. Asian Americans, now America's fastest growing minority group, also increased their share of voters, from 2 to 3 percent.

* Minority voters imaintained their overwhelming support for Obama. Minority voters backed Obama 80 percent to 18 percent in 2008 -- and did exactly the same for the president this year. His support among African-Americans was almost as overwhelming (93-6) as it was in 2008 (95-4). And his support among Hispanics (71-27) improved substantially over its 2008 level (67-31). In addition, Obama achieved historic levels of support among Asian-Americans. This year he carried them 73-26, compared to 62-35 in 2008.

* The gender gap got even bigger. Obama carried women 55 to 44, while losing men 45 to 52. This is a larger gender gap than in 2008, when Obama carried women by only slightly more (56-43), while doing quite a bit better among men (carrying them 49-48). Obama did particularly well among single women in 2012, carrying them by 67-31 -- not far off his 70-29 margin in 2008. Single women were also a slightly larger share of voters this year, 23 percent vs. 21 percent in 2008.

* Professionals continued their strong support for Democrats. Exit polls don't ask about voters' occupations, but those with postgraduate education, the closest proxy for professionals, backed Obama 55 to 42 percent in 2012. Their share of voters also went up, from 17 to 18 percent. This is the sixth straight presidential election in which this group has voted Democratic.

* Young voters turned out again in droves for the Democrat. Turbocharging all these changes has been the rise of a progressive younger generation, the Millennials. Young voters (18-29) defied skepticism about their likely levels of voter turnout this year, comprising 19 percent of voters -- up from 18 percent in Obama's historic campaign of 2008. These voters supported Democrats by a 23-point margin in the 2012 election (60 percent to 37 percent). This is strong support, by far Obama's best performance among any age group, just as was the case in 2008, when Obama performed even more strongly among these voters (66-32). It is also worth noting that Obama did about as well among 18- to 24-year-olds (60-36) as he did among 25- to 29-year-olds (60-38), indicating that younger members of the Millennial generation who are just entering the electorate have the same political leanings as their older counterparts.

It would be hard to imagine a better tenth anniversary present for The Emerging Democratic Majority! But will this new coalition be able to hold together over the long term? That depends on whether the Democrats can provide this coalition with what it wants and needs. As we said in the concluding paragraph of our book:

Today's Americans...want government to play an active and responsible role in American life, guaranteeing a reasonable level of economic security to Americans rather than leaving them at the mercy of the market and the business cycle. They want to preserve and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, rather than privatize them. They want to modernize and upgrade public education, not abandon it. They want to exploit new bio-technologies and computer technologies in order to improve the quality of life. They do not want science held hostage to a religious or ideological agenda. And they want the social gains of the sixties consolidated, not rolled back; the wounds of race healed, not inflamed.

If the Democrats can do all that, the emerging Democratic majority could be here to stay.