Four years later, those dreams of realignment have, for now at least, turned to dust. After four grueling years of economic turbulence and partisan conflict, no one in either party expects Obama to consolidate a commanding new majority coalition this fall. Instead, his team is struggling against fierce economic headwinds to marshal a bare majority that relies less on converting ambivalent swing voters than on maximizing turnout and the president’s advantage among his core supporters.
Crunching the numbers leads Brownstein to this conclusion:
Because of the steady growth of the minority population and Romney’s failure so far to crack those voters, Obama could prevail in November with an 80/40 solution: winning about 80 percent of the vote among minorities and about 40 percent among whites. Yet, hard times could put even that modest showing with whites beyond Obama’s reach. Heading into its final months, the 2012 campaign still looks like a titanic collision between the economy and demography.
Here’s something that’s not surprising, really, but worth mentioning again and again:
But as cultural and foreign-policy disputes between the parties have assumed greater prominence since the 1960s, Republicans have gained among blue-collar whites, and Democrats have made mirror-image inroads among white-collar whites, producing the class inversion. In 1988, 1992, and 1996, Dukakis and Clinton each ran almost equally well among college and noncollege whites. In 2000, Gore ran 4 percentage points better among college whites; Kerry widened the margin to 6 points; and in 2008 Obama ran 7 points better among college-educated than noncollege whites.
He points out too that if you want to understand the role religion plays in voting, you have to look at what voters do, rather than what they say. Voters who actually go to church (as opposed to merely identifying themselves to pollsters as “Catholic,” “Protestant,” etc.) are far more likely to vote Republican. Again, this isn’t news to people who follow these things, but it so often gets overlooked in discussions of religion and politics.
Brownstein goes on to say that the 2012 election may come down to whether or not Romney can motivated blue-collar whites to get to the polls for him in greater numbers than Obama can motivate white-collar whites to turn out for him. Demographic trends are on Obama’s side; unlike past election cycles, there are fewer blue-collar whites than white-collar whites.
It’s interesting that the Milton Himmelfarb’s imperishable wisecrack that “Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans” is increasingly true of college-educated whites.