Why Democrats Are So Confident

Republicans are trending against a growing cultural majority, while Democrats are in tune with it.

US First Lady Michelle Obama (L) and US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson (R) stand with newly sworn in US citizen Juan Cue Monroy, 20 born in Guatemala, during a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives June 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. Fifty new citizens were sworn in during the event. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
July 2, 2014, 4 p.m.

It was a re­veal­ing con­ver­gence Monday when the five-mem­ber con­ser­vat­ive Su­preme Court ma­jor­ity de­livered the Hobby Lobby con­tra­cep­tion de­cision even as Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced that House Re­pub­lic­ans had of­fi­cially shelved im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Both dis­putes re­af­firmed the GOP’s iden­tity as the cham­pi­on of the forces most res­ist­ant to the pro­found demo­graph­ic and cul­tur­al dy­nam­ics re­shap­ing Amer­ic­an life — and Demo­crats as the voice of those who most wel­come these changes.

And both clashes cap­tured a par­al­lel shift: While Re­pub­lic­ans took the of­fense on most cul­tur­al ar­gu­ments through the late 20th cen­tury, now Demo­crats from Obama on down are mostly press­ing these is­sues, con­fid­ent that they rep­res­ent an ex­pand­ing ma­jor­ity of pub­lic opin­ion.

Vet­er­an poll­ster Stan­ley B. Green­berg cap­tures this al­most un­pre­ced­en­ted Demo­crat­ic as­sur­ance when he de­clares flatly: “Re­pub­lic­ans are on the los­ing side of all of these trends.”

Bey­ond con­tra­cep­tion and im­mig­ra­tion, the parties are es­cal­at­ing their con­flicts over a broad suite of is­sues that di­vide the elect­or­ate along cul­tur­al lines, in­clud­ing gun con­trol, gay rights, abor­tion, and cli­mate change (which polit­ic­ally pivots on trust in sci­ence). Com­bined, these con­front­a­tions are stamp­ing the GOP as what I’ve called a “Co­ali­tion of Res­tor­a­tion” primar­ily rep­res­ent­ing older, white, re­li­giously de­vout, and non­urb­an voters who fear that hurt­ling change is un­der­min­ing tra­di­tion­al Amer­ic­an val­ues. Demo­crats in turn are cham­pi­on­ing a young­er, more urb­an­ized, di­verse, and sec­u­lar “Co­ali­tion of Trans­form­a­tion” that wel­comes the evol­u­tion in Amer­ica’s ra­cial com­pos­i­tion and cul­tur­al mores.

As Obama struggles through his second term, it’s clear one of his sig­nal legacies will be ce­ment­ing the Demo­crats’ con­nec­tion with that co­ali­tion’s cul­tur­al pri­or­it­ies. It’s easy to ima­gine Hil­lary Clin­ton or an­oth­er fu­ture Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee of­fer­ing more cent­rist fisc­al or for­eign policies than Obama. But on cul­tur­al is­sues Obama has led his party across a Ru­bicon.

Re­vers­ing their fre­quent am­bi­val­ence after the 1960s, Demo­crats are now fol­low­ing their pres­id­ent in­to an un­swerving em­brace of cul­tur­al and demo­graph­ic change. That shift re­ver­ber­ates through Obama’s de­fi­ant re­cent pledges to act uni­lat­er­ally if ne­ces­sary to en­sure equal work­place treat­ment of gays, pro­tect un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants, con­front cli­mate change, and over­come the Hobby Lobby de­cision al­low­ing re­li­gious-based private com­pan­ies to ex­clude con­tra­cep­tion from their health in­sur­ance plans.

Some dis­agree­ment has per­sisted, but Demo­crats have uni­fied around this agenda far more than on sim­il­ar ques­tions earli­er. Even red-state Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors fa­cing reelec­tion, such as Arkan­sas’s Mark Pry­or and Alaska’s Mark Be­gich, quickly con­demned the Hobby Lobby de­cision. No Sen­ate Demo­crat last year voted against either im­mig­ra­tion re­form or le­gis­la­tion pro­hib­it­ing em­ploy­ers from dis­crim­in­at­ing against gay work­ers; only four dis­sen­ted on uni­ver­sal back­ground checks for gun pur­chases.

In mir­ror im­age, Re­pub­lic­ans are so­lid­i­fy­ing against these ideas. Not only red-state but also swing-state Re­pub­lic­ans uni­formly praised the Hobby Lobby de­cision. Though some GOP sen­at­ors sided with Obama, House Re­pub­lic­ans have blocked ac­tion with little dis­sent on im­mig­ra­tion re­form, work­place pro­tec­tions for gays, and uni­ver­sal back­ground checks. House and Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans uni­formly de­cry Obama’s cli­mate ini­ti­at­ives.

The risk for Re­pub­lic­ans is that on each of these con­flicts, polls show Obama’s po­s­i­tion rep­res­ents ma­jor­ity opin­ion today — and that ma­jor­ity will likely grow be­cause the groups that gen­er­ally sup­port his views most are in­creas­ing as a share of voters.

A re­cent NBC/Wall Street Journ­al poll, for in­stance, found that Amer­ic­ans backed the con­tra­cep­tion man­date by a 53-41 per­cent ma­jor­ity. But at least three-fifths of minor­it­ies, mil­len­ni­als, and col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men — the grow­ing groups cent­ral to the mod­ern Demo­crat­ic co­ali­tion — wel­comed the man­date.

Like­wise, in a Gal­lup Poll last fall, more than three-fifths of Amer­ic­ans sup­por­ted a ban on em­ploy­ers dis­crim­in­at­ing against gay work­ers, which Obama now plans to ad­dress through ex­ec­ut­ive or­der. But those num­bers soared past 70 per­cent among mil­len­ni­als and col­lege-edu­cated white wo­men. And while just over half of all Amer­ic­ans sup­port gay mar­riage, that num­ber again reached around 70 per­cent with both groups, ac­cord­ing to Pew Re­search Cen­ter polling.

Those same two groups also ex­press the most con­cern about cli­mate change — and along with minor­it­ies dis­play pre­pon­der­ant sup­port for im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Con­versely, the older and blue-col­lar whites who now an­chor the GOP co­ali­tion typ­ic­ally ex­press the most op­pos­i­tion to ac­tion across all these fronts.

The biggest crack for Demo­crats in this align­ment is that His­pan­ics and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans (es­pe­cially older ones) take less-lib­er­al po­s­i­tions than up­scale whites on gay rights and abor­tion. But the GOP has failed to ex­ploit that open­ing be­cause its com­mit­ment to the views of its older white base on oth­er is­sues — such as im­mig­ra­tion, health re­form, and the so­cial safety net — has ali­en­ated those minor­ity com­munit­ies.

The res­ult is that amid pub­lic un­ease over Obama’s eco­nom­ic and for­eign policy re­cord, cul­tur­al af­fin­ity has be­come the Demo­crats’ most power­ful elect­or­al weapon. The party’s deep­en­ing em­brace of cul­tur­al lib­er­al­ism may make it tough­er for it to hold some red-state House and Sen­ate seats, but is im­prov­ing its po­s­i­tion with the cos­mo­pol­it­an states and grow­ing demo­graph­ic groups that key its pres­id­en­tial ma­jor­ity. In a year when so many oth­er clouds are gath­er­ing over them, that’s a trade most Demo­crats would prob­ably take in a heart­beat.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
7 REPUBLICANS ON STAGE
Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
2 days ago
THE LATEST

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.

Source:
×