Opinion Brief

President Obama's re-election: Is there now a permanent Democratic majority?

The president's winning coalition of 2008 remains intact — and demographic trends suggest that it will only get larger

Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's winning presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, famously proclaimed the ascendance of a "permanent Republican majority." America, he argued, was fundamentally a center-right country, and the GOP's combination of minimal government, social conservatism, and foreign policy strength would be unbeatable for, well, forever. But with President Obama's re-election, there is a strong case to be made that it's actually the other way around. Obama won another four years despite the fact that the national unemployment rate is at 7.9 percent — a feat matched only by FDR in modern presidential history — and he can thank his winning coalition of 2008 for showing up in strength at the polls. Composed of white liberals, blacks, Latinos, younger voters, blue-collar workers, and moderate women, it is a coalition that has lots of room to grow, whereas Mitt Romney's core base — much older and whiter — is doomed to shrink. Has Obama crafted a permanent Democratic majority?

The demographics clearly favor Democrats: "The story of this election will be all about demographics," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. Obama "made the right bet on the true nature of the American electorate," and his victory "shows that the GOP is not keeping pace with the changing face of America." The country "continues to be defined by what Ron Brownstein has called the 'coalition of the ascendant' — minorities, young voters, and college educated whites, particularly women." Obama and the Democratic Party have a lock on that majority because of their positions on social issues, immigration, and the role of government.
"A big night for Democrats and liberals"

But Obama's majority won't last forever: "When you do it once, it's just a victory," says Ross Douthat at The New York Times. "When you do it twice, it's a realignment." However, the Obama "era will not last forever; it may not even last more than another four years." Obama's coalition appeared vulnerable more than once during his first term, and was overwhelmed in the 2010 midterm elections. The Democratic Party "has its share of internal contradictions, and as it expands demographically it will become vulnerable to attack on many fronts." But for now, there's no denying a stark reality for Republicans: "The age of Reagan is officially over, and the Obama majority is the only majority we have."
"The Obama realignment"

And the country remains bitterly divided: Clearly, Obama forged "a coalition of America's rising electorate," says Susan Page at USA Today. However, there's also no denying that Obama presides over a country whose "divisions are even sharper than they were four years ago, when Obama attracted broader support, especially among whites." Indeed, Obama's majority has gotten slimmer since his 2008 landslide. So let's not crown the Democrats in perpetuity quite yet.
"A nation moving further apart"

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