The Plank

Does The Emerging Democratic Majority Help Obama?

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Everyone should read Ronald Brownstein's fascinating cover story in National Journal. Here's the crux of his argument: 

From New Hampshire to California, and from Arizona to Wisconsin, exit
polls from this year's contests show the Democratic coalition evolving
in clear and consistent ways since the 2004 primaries that nominated John Kerry.
The party is growing younger, more affluent, more liberal, and more
heavily tilted toward women, Latinos, and African-Americans.

Which means:

This year's changes have accelerated a
clear movement away from key elements of the historic New Deal
coalition on which Hillary Clinton has based her candidacy.

On
the whole, this should count as good news for Democrats because they
are expanding their coalition with groups that are becoming an
ever-larger share of the voting population. But what does it mean for
Barack Obama, who has at times struggled with working-class and older
Democrats? As Daniel Larison, commenting on some fascinating new Pew data, notes:

Not only do Democratic defections nearly double in a
McCain v. Obama race, but Obama loses a fifth of white Democrats to
McCain, and he runs seventeen points behind Clinton among <$30K
earners, reflecting continuing weakness with downscale voters. Compared to Clinton, he also loses
14 points among Democratic women, which is a much larger figure of
disgruntled women voters turning away from the Democrat and backing
McCain than the three-point difference between Clinton and Obama among
black Democratic voters.  

Most remarkable of all is that Obama is weaker among Democrats in all age groups than Clinton.  He is four points weaker,
and McCain five points stronger, among Democratic voters aged 18-49
than in a Clinton v. McCain race.  The losses are even greater among
Democratic voters 50-64 and 65+.  Democratic defections increase across
income groups as well.  Obama does much better in the younger age
groups among independents, but if the Democratic numbers are any
indication this seems to have less to do with age than with style. 
Probably the same thing that makes Obama attractive to independents (he
doesn’t always sound like a regular Democrat) is what is undermining
him with Democratic voters.

And
yet in the same poll, because he is so much more popular with
independents, Obama does better against McCain than Clinton does. Which
has Larison asking:

What happens when these independent voters find that Obama is offering
little more than rehashed liberalism and the “post-partisan” fantasy is
revealed as just that?

I
suppose this could be a problem, but it seems just as likely that Obama
will gain ground with the Democratic voters mentioned above once he
wraps up the primary. Still, if we assume that he'll do worse on
election day with older and downscale Democrats than previous nominees
did, the crucial thing to ask is where this will hurt him. After all,
the popular vote winner does not necessarily become president.
Unfortunately for Obama, Pennsylvania and Florida have significant
proportions of older voters, and Ohio has a lot of blue-collar
Democrats. We'll have to see what the numbers look like in a few weeks,
when presumably he will have consolidated Democratic support.

--Isaac Chotiner

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