Electoral analysts Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the liberal Center for American Progress will publish tomorrow a comprehensive demographic and geographic roadmap to the 2012 presidential campaign that political junkies of all ideological stripes will want to keep close at hand.
In their new paper, The Path to 270, the two correctly lay out, I believe, the critical dynamics that will likely tip the balance in both the Electoral College and popular vote next year. President Obama's biggest headwind, they argue, will be disappointment in his handling of the economy; his biggest tailwind will be ongoing demographic change that continues to bend the electorate in his direction.
After Obama's victory in 2008, I argued that he had assembled a "coalition of the ascendant": that is, he ran best among groups that were themselves growing in society, like minorities, the Millennial generation and college-educated whites, especially women.
Teixeira and Halpin draw on that concept to argue that the unbroken wave of demographic change makes it likely that these groups, which remain the most favorable to Obama, will constitute an even larger share of the vote in 2012 than they did last time. They project that the minority share of the vote will rise from 26 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012, an increase commensurate with the average election to election rise since 1992 (National Journal reached a similar conclusion in its analysis, The Next America). And they project that college-educated whites will increase their share of the vote from 35 percent in 2008 to 36 percent in 2012. (Overlapping with both those trends, they calculate that 16 million more Millennials will be eligible to vote in 2012 than in 2008.) Whites without a college degree, the most solidly Republican component of the electorate, they expect to continue their generation-long decline, from 39 percent of the vote last time to 36 percent in 2012. (In 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected, those non-college whites alone constituted an absolute majority of the electorate, 53 percent.)