Heads or Tails, the Obama Coalition Wins
Ross Douthat has a welcome pushback against liberal hubris in the wake of President Obama’s reelection. He writes:
Liberals look at the Obama majority and see a coalition bound together by enlightened values — reason rather than superstition, tolerance rather than bigotry, equality rather than hierarchy. But it’s just as easy to see a coalition created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.
Consider the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they put forward a more welcoming face than Republicans do — one more in keeping with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to breathe free? Yes, up to a point. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully — or worse, are assimilating downward, thanks to rising out-of-wedlock birthrates and high dropout rates. The Democratic edge among Hispanics depends heavily on these darker trends: the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.
Likewise with the growing number of unmarried Americans, especially unmarried women. Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why these voters lean Democratic. But the more important explanation is that single life is generally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children — which is now commonplace for women under 30 — is almost impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides. …
The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of faith and domesticity, the fact that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to just celebrate the emerging America, to minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to treat the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats.
Ross is right about about all this, but I would caution against conservatives taking much comfort in it. You get a sense of the heads-they-win-tails-they-win problem that conservatives are facing in this Bloggingheads.tv clip of Human Capitalism author Brink Lindsey below:
Lindsey describes a socio-demographic group that sounds like the opposite of the economically struggling immigrants and single mothers whom Ross rightly identifies as critical to the Obama coalition. They are, says Lindsey, “model bourgeois citizens. They have the highest workforce participation. They have the highest educational attainment and incomes. They have the most stable marriages.” Who are they? They are educated whites — the culturally tolerant bobo elites of the Northeast and Silicon Valley.
To put it another way, they are the other big piece of the Obama coalition.
Ross notes, correctly, that “the weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.” But it’s equally true that in places where families and communities are strong, and where federal largesse seems unnecessary — like my neighborhood in North Arlington, Va. — cultural liberalism is ascendant.
Here’s the situation, as Lindsey and others (like David Brooks) see it: because of immigration, automation, outsourcing, and attrition, the share of working-class whites in America is gradually diminishing. On the rise are those who are better at impulse control, long-term planning, and, yes, contraception. With helicopter parents and graduate degrees, they are far better-suited to meet the cognitive demands of an increasingly complex knowledge economy. They are waiting longer and longer to get married, if at all, and they’re having fewer children. Economically speaking, they are makers, not takers; winners, not losers. And right now, they are attached to the Democratic party.
Ross focuses on the attraction to single mothers of government transfer payments. Yet as Joel Kotkin notes, the broader picture indicates a growing number of childless single women and men, plus childless couples:
Demographically, at least in the short and even medium term, betting on singles and the childless couples seems like a no-brainer. In the past 30 years the percentage of women aged 40 to 44 who have never had children nearly doubled to 19%. At the same time singletons of both sexes are on the rise, numbering over 31 million strong today, up from 27 million in 2000, a growth rate nearly double that of the overall population.
There is simply no way to look at these trends and find good news for a political party that appeals mostly to traditionalist whites and the very rich. The promise of equality for the materially insecure and social space for the materially secure — this is the Democratic cocktail, and, for now, at least, it looks like it will win the foreseeable future. There is economic fear here, to be sure. But there’s also economic superiority.