Obama’s new majority

America’s voters are heading left, whoever the candidate might be

10 November 2012

‘I’ve come back to Iowa one more time to ask for your vote,’ said President Obama at an emotional ‘last ever’ campaign meeting. ‘Because this is where our movement for change began, right here. Right here.’ And his eyes briefly moistened. The nostalgia was doubtless sincere, and the address correct, but it was misleading to describe his 2012 election campaign as a continuation of his earlier ‘movement for change’. In reality, it has been a smoothly ruthless operation to distract attention from a record that has been disappointingly bereft of change. He triumphed over himself as much as over the hapless Mitt Romney.

Until it produced a glossy economic leaflet so that the President could wave it as evidence that, like Romney, he too had a ‘plan’, the Obama campaign had concentrated on blaming George W. Bush for America’s continuing troubles. It denounced Romney as a vulture capitalist murderously hostile to ordinary people, and promised to protect women against the GOP’s supposed plan to abolish both contraception and abortion. Both sides ran relentlessly negative adverts but, as the result showed, the Democrats did it better. Obama will be President for another four years.

To win in circumstances that seemed ripe for his defeat is a remarkable achievement — but the victory can scarcely be described as glorious. The President almost tied with Romney (whom he reportedly despises) in the popular vote. The loss of Senate seats had little to do with his coattails but was largely due to the individual follies or bad luck of Republican candidates. Republicans retained control of the House and now control 30 governorships, the highest number since 2000. The President will have to deal with a hostile half of Congress in an atmosphere poisoned by the extraordinarily ruthless partisanship of this ‘post-partisan’. And in one vital particular, the campaign almost foundered.

Back in 2008, when Obama was beginning his movement for change in Iowa, he gave an interview to the Reno Gazette-Journal, in which he declared that ‘Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not… He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.’ The implication that a future President Obama would succeed where Clinton had failed was clear. But how did Obama propose to change that trajectory?

As it happens, the trajectory has been changing of its own accord, thanks to what William Frey of the Brookings Institution refers to as the Democrats’ best friend: demography. America is ‘browning’, as Frey puts it, as a result of high immigration levels from Latin America and Asia and the fact that an older white population is having fewer children than immigrants and their children. (If talk of ‘browning’ and ‘white decline’ makes you uneasy, please relax. It’s perfectly respectable in American politics, provided you don’t suggest that there’s anything wrong with such trends.)

A glance at the CNN exit polls shows why this matters. Romney had a 20-point lead among white voters, but among ethnic minorities his defeat was emphatic. Obama won by 44 points among Latinos, 47 points among Asians and 87 points among African-Americans. A Republican party that relies upon white votes is a Republican party that ought to be anxious about its future. That is not to endorse the immediate response of most commentators that ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform is the obvious solution to the party’s problems. The final tipping point will not happen for some decades, but the Census Bureau has pointed to one intermediate point: for the first time, whites represented a minority of all births (49.6 per cent).These trends were forecast as early as 1997, in a National Review article called ‘The Emerging Democratic Majority’ — a theme and a title that were later adopted by Democrats John Judis and Ruy Teixeira for an influential 2002 book. Several commentators predicted that some time in the first decade of this century the Republicans would lose the natural majority Reagan had created for them. The old model would suddenly stop working. That arguably happened when Obama was first elected, but the trends have accelerated since then and a natural Democratic majority has almost emerged.

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It isn’t, of course, that simple. Although whites are declining as a percentage of the population, they will remain for some time the big enchilada electorally — 72 per cent of voters according to exit polls. A third of Hispanics in America are under 18 and can’t vote until 2016 at the earliest. The electoral overwhelming of the white majority may not have the effect that simple extrapolation suggests. Most Hispanics are white. Intermarriage is creating mixed and non-racial identities that further confuse ethnic categories. One effect could be an electorate that votes less and less along ethnic lines.

It was a bold decision for the Obama campaign to pitch a radical social appeal to ethnic minorities, young people and single women — without worrying that the religious right or other groups might be offended. This, in effect, risked losing the 2012 election with a campaign designed for 2020. But the gamble was vindicated on election night when the exit polls showed these targeted groups voting disproportionately for the President.

Romney and Republicans faced an equally tricky decision. If their support among minorities was low and even falling, then they had to compensate by getting a larger share of the white vote — especially the white working-class vote which is alienated from the Democrats and (everywhere in the English-speaking world) moving from left to right. A back-of-envelope calculation suggested that Romney needed rather more than 60 per cent of whites to give him an overall victory.

Appealing to these votes was always going to be a hard task for Romney. As a venture capitalist and the head of Bain Capital, he was exactly the wrong sort of Republican to win over blue-collar workers. His Mormon temperance and personal stiffness early on scarcely helped. And his opposition to Obama’s bailout of General Motors, though principled, threatened the economic interests of the very workers he was trying to win over.

Even if Romney could have overcome these personal drawbacks, he and all other Republicans confronted a more intangible but still formidable obstacle. Making specifically ethnic appeals to Hispanic, black or Asian constituencies is an everyday event in American politics and entirely respectable; appealing to whites as an ethnic group is not. He might have criticised affirmative action quotas. He might, indeed, have called for immigration restrictions, and flirted with doing so in the primaries. But both such appeals might have distressed the Midwest suburban voters who were coming over to the GOP. So Romney contented himself with making a general appeal to all Americans on rescuing the economy from Obama’s failed policies.

Polls showed that whites were breaking for Romney so decisively that Bill Clinton was summoned to help Obama prevent the last-minute defection of previously safe Democratic strongholds such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. In the final hectic days of the campaign, a tired and hoarse but still vigorous ex-president criss-crossed what had suddenly become three or four ‘swing’ states on the east coast and in the Midwest. It was an old-fashioned street hustings climax to a campaign more often fought with television ads and social media.

It worked. Romney got only 59 per cent of the white vote and, accordingly, he lost narrowly. Clinton gave the kiss of life to Obama’s ailing ambition. The President phoned to thank him immediately after Romney’s concession, which must have been a bittersweet occasion for Clinton.

What now? The trajectory of American politics towards a natural Democratic majority will continue to be strengthened by the election. America now looks like a less naturally conservative country, more a centre-left one. Between them, Clinton and Obama have helped demography along. As these trends gain traction, however, they will provoke and aggravate a new clash in American politics.

The coming majority implies a different set of political priorities for the US government. A younger, poorer, less self-reliant electorate, rooted mainly in minority communities, is likely to demand a larger welfare state, greater regulation, more unionisation, higher government spending and higher taxes, initially ‘on the rich’. These demands will run counter to the interests of older Americans of all races, who are currently the main beneficiaries of high spending and low taxes. And the claims of both will inevitably be noticed by the watchful interests of the international investing community and America’s creditors such as China.

An irresistible political force is about to meet an immovable economic object — on the edge of a vertiginous fiscal cliff.

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  • jonah

    The Yanks have just voted themselves into oblivion. Their call but …….

  • privatine

    What the USA needs is a really good civil war, that’ll sort out the balance.

  • Forum Politicum
  • retundario

    Left-wingers really just don’t understand that their desperate attempts to create an ethnically-balkanised for short-term electoral gain, will lead to their country becoming a violent shithole. They genuinely think that white right-wingers are the only people in the world capable of being self-interested. It’s so frustrating watching them launch these idiotic racial campaigns all over the western world, while no-one in the media ever criticises.

  • http://wotthehec.blogspot.com/ Richard Laidlaw

    Granted the U.S. must deal with its new demographics and try to reach a social compact more analogous with that of its responsible neighbour Canada. The Republicans have a problem there. But the real task for America’s political leaders, on both sides, is to manage U.S. decline as an economic and international political power – those cyclical inevitabilities – and work to ensure that this is relative and not absolute.The fiscal cliff is less a financial than a political entity.

  • hayward

    George Santayana says it and it applies to Republicans in particular

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

    For who started the USA down the slippery slope from creditor to debtor nation?

    The Republicans under Reagan.

    1981, shortly after taking office, Reagan complained of “runaway

    deficits” that were then approaching US$80 billion, or about 2.5

    % GDP.

    1983 Reaganomics had succeeded in enlarging the deficit to more than US$200 billion, or 6% GDP.

    1993 Bush1 deficit down to US$150 billion, still almost double what it had been under Carter. National Debt up from US$995 billion, when Reagan took office, to $4 trillion.

    Reaganomics, as applied by 3 Republican Administrations, had it grow as a % of GDP from 26% to 42%.

    1993 Clinton managed hold/wind back both of them in returning the budget to a surplus of some US$280 billion and reducing the National Debt to 35% GDP.

    2001 Bushednomics soon remedied that as The Faux Texan and late unlamented encumbrance in the White House, even managed to outdo “The Gipper” and his own Dad.

    Setting yet another unenviable record with a deficit was to be $482 billion in the 2009 budget moving from black to red ink in the order of US$750 billion from the end of

    Clinton’s term.

    2007 the Wall Street Tsunami led to to so much money sloshed around, including the socialist style buying of bank shares, that the deficit and the ND blew out again. Helped of course by the Three Trillion Dollar War/s, The Iraq Fiasco and the Afghan Imbroglio.

    2008 to present after the WST, the GFC, that Global Financial Chicken coming home to roost with a fulsome, noisome pile of economic, financial and fiscal ordure that no incoming Administration could hope to cope with in the short term.

    2011 US had to borrow c.40% 0f the funding to keep the country running.


    Democratic Presidents, Federal Spending went up 9.9%. Federal Debt 4.2%, GDP 12.6%.

    Republican Presidents Federal Spending was 12.1%, FederalDebt 36.4% , GDP 10.7%

    1995-2006 Republicans controlled Congress.

    2001-2009 Republican Administration.

    Fiscally Responsible Republicans?

    More like Fiscally Risible!

    Sinc e1945 the market has gained 15% pa under Democrat Presidents but only 10% under Republican Presidents

  • William Blakes Ghost

    And just like Europe it will end up effectively bankrupt and at the whim of its creditors. The “Land of the Free” will be anything but…….

  • mikewaller

    Someone somewhere ought to break the news to the American right that the party’s over. Their declining living standards (unless, of course, they are super-rich) have little to do with the complexion of their government. Their central problem is that of British football writ large. We taught the world the game but thought we would stay on top. We didn’t. Ditto the Western economies and global capitalism. Worldwide, the number of industrialised workers is heading in the direction of a billion+ so there are far too many people making far to many things for manufactured goods to attracted the kind of premium they did in the past. And it was that premium that gave us life-styles that were the envy of the rest of the world.

    In the new conditions, only the well motivated and well-educated are likely to succeed and grass-root movements whose main characteristic seems to be members are “as mad as hell” simply are not going to cut the mustard. The only hope is to reach out to high achievers in every ethnic group and give divisive issues such as gay marriage and abortion a very wide berth.

    And it that were not hard enough, there are two other “must dos”

    1. Junk the cherished system of checks and balances that make firm executive action virtually impossible.

    2. Bring in some affordable system of health care so that decent hard working people don’t live in fear of losing everything they have built up as a result of making the big mistake of being ill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.maloney.39904 John Maloney

    The 18% increase in gun sales, and the fact that a further 20 States have applied for secession, shows a growing anxiety and dissatisfaction amongst the public since Obama’s re-election. The election itself, in my opinion, is by no means a reflection of public opinion. America is in deep trouble.

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