All of the fights Obama has launched have the potential to more deeply engrave these lines, exacerbating his difficulties with the conservative white constituencies who have moved away from the Democrats, while complicating the GOP’s pursuit of the coalition of the ascendant.
Although the level of public support for Obama’s initiatives varies in polls, they generally divide the public along a consistent track that hardens partisan divisions. Pew Research Center polls over the past two years show that, with few exceptions, blue-collar and older whites, the groups at the center of the modern Republican coalition, are consistently dubious of the ideas Obama has now embraced.
In questions measuring attitudes about gun control versus gun rights, the risk of climate change, gay marriage, whether immigrants bolster or threaten traditional American values, and the requirement to provide contraception in health insurance plans, noncollege white men lean toward the conservative position on all five. Most white seniors also express conservative positions on all five issues (except guns), as do whites ages 50-64, except on gay marriage, where they split evenly.
But on guns, gay marriage, immigration, and contraception, most minorities, young people, and college-educated white women take the liberal position in the Pew surveys, often by lopsided majorities. Among adult members of the millennial generation (who are now 18-29), for instance, two-thirds support gay marriage, and just under three-fifths prioritize gun control over gun rights. The proposition that human activity is warming the climate draws less overall support than Obama’s position on the other four issues, but, once again, minorities, millennials, and college-plus white women take much more liberal positions than older and blue-collar whites.