President Barack Obama is remaking the Democratic Party, forging a new political coalition that is steadily replacing the old party alignment first built by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
Obama, the first African-American and first post-Baby Boom president, is doing it by amassing large numbers of female, minority, youth and gay voters.
His re-election was made possible by the same voters who approved gay marriage in three states, access to in-state tuition for young illegal immigrants in one state and elected a record number of women – at least 97 – to Congress.
“In 2012, communities of color, young people and women are not merely interest groups, they’re the ‘new normal’ demographic of the American electorate,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.
In his acceptance speech early Wednesday, Obama referenced the nation’s changing population.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, or Hispanic or Asian, or Native American, or young or old, or rich or poor, disabled, disabled, gay or straight – you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try,” he told thousands in Chicago.
Hours later, standing outside Obama’s house in Chicago, TyRon Turner, an African American supporter who traveled from Inglewood, Calif., to attend Obama’s victory party, couldn’t stop thinking about the divisions in the country evident on TV on election night as cameras panned to the saddened, mostly white faces at Romney’s party to the jubilant, racially diverse audience at the president’s.
“We were all hugging each other, black and white,” Turner said. “I said to someone, ‘Look at all the different races in this room.’ We were all together as Americans, as we should be. This is what America looks like.”
Supporters and opponents alike had questioned the staying power of Obama’s coalition in the years after he won his first election. But on Wednesday, even Republicans began to acknowledge that they needed to make their own changes.
Republican commentator Dick Morris wrote Wednesday that he had mistakenly believed Romney would win in part because he thought the 2008 surge in black, Latino and young voter turnout would recede in 2012.
“These high levels of minority and young voter participation are here to stay,” he wrote. “And, with them, a permanent reshaping of our nation’s politics.”
Independent political analyst Charlie Cook said Obama won on the “cold number, the demographics of who voted,” and that Republicans must look beyond white males to win again. “That’s just not where this country is going to be five, 10, 15, 20 years from now,” he said. “This country is changing and they’ve got to change.”
The nation’s rapidly changing demographics were on Obama’s side. Population increases in key battleground states were largely among Democratic constituencies, including African Americans, Asians and Hispanics.
An estimated 10 percent of the electorate was Latino, up from 9 percent in 2008. And Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls, up from 67 percent four years ago.
He received 60 percent of the vote from people ages 18-29. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement – CIRCLE – a youth research organization at Tufts University, said that early estimates show that 22 million to 23 million young Americans – or at least 49 percent – voted. CIRCLE director Peter Levine said turnout for young voters has increased over the last three elections – averaging what he called a "new normal" of about 50 percent – and making the once not-so-reliable voting segment now an “essential political bloc.”
The gay vote is not yet measured in exit polls. But a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research said that 5 percent of voters self-identified as gay, lesbian and bisexual and more than three-quarters of them cast their ballots for Obama.
Obama’s support remained strong among a number of key constituencies, including African-American voters, nine out of 10 of whom backed Obama, and women, who broke 55-44 for Obama.
Now, after propelling Obama to victory, the lobbying begins and some groups warn that Democrats will need to keep their promises to keep the coalition viable beyond this election. These core constituencies want comprehensive immigration reform, equality for gays and lesbians, and climate change solutions.
“Our collective labor as a community has engaged marginalized voters and brought them into the political process – and now our collective labor will demand that President Obama use every bit of his power to help us – all of us – get equal,” said Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, national field director for GetEQUAL, a national gay rights organization.