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The Obama Coalition: America's Changing Economics, Ethnicity And Electoral Math

Article illustrative image Partner logo Obama at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies 18th Annual Gala Dinner

Barack Obama’s victory on Tuesday was very different than his win four years ago. In 2008, he won the White House with a powerful message of change; a fresh start for the nation. Charming a majority of Americans back then was a young, black senator, breaking both the political status quo, and longstanding racial barriers. .

Today the young senator’s spell of hopefulness has been replaced by a different kind of hope: millions of people who want this President, who has since turned 50, to help them realize the fruits of their labors. 

The face of victory on Tuesday night was Jacky Cruz. At 21, Jacky is an American girl through and through. She speaks English with no accent, she was top of her class all the way through school, she volunteers and has always worked to help pay for her studies.

But now, she cannot attend university. This is because she entered the US illegally when she was three years old, together with her parents, who came to pick blueberries in the fields of Florida. As an illegal immigrant, she grew up learning how to be invisible. Like the two million other children with similar stories, they are counting on Obama so they may no longer have to live as ghosts.

Tuesday’s victory was crucial to people like Jacky, who are now part of a coalition that is capable of uniting many different minority groups, who alone would not be influential but joined together are a true electoral force.

To succeed in winning an election, a candidate must know his country, know exactly who the people are, what they think and what they want now and hope for in the future.

Obama’s team was able to do just that: knowing that the majority of white male voters would lean to the right, towards the Republican candidate, there was space to create a new block of interests, repeating Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s feat of exactly 80 years before, when he put together the white farmers of the south and the new Italian and Irish workers in the industrial north, guaranteeing the Democrats power for the next two decades.

Today, like in 1932, sunk deep in recession, it’s possible to dare to aim for a paradigm shift because the economic crisis has dramatically changed how people feel in America.

Thus, a new coalition was born, which could permit a victory over the economic thoughts that have dominated the last few decades; led by someone who brings an idea of a present and activist government, long considered a liability for anyone who wanted to run for the White House. This coalition allowed Obama to win, despite the 60% of white voters who chose Mitt Romney. The White-Anglo-Saxon socially conservative America can no longer set the agenda: it is now the minority.

The fear of Samuel Huntington, author of “Political Order in Changing Societies,” came true on Tuesday night. Three years before his death in 2005, the Harvard professor had forecast the end of “WASP America,” with the myth of individualism and the free market that for two centuries had been capable of integrating the migratory waves with its founding ideologies.

Now it has happened, even if it’s in different terms than the catastrophe prophesized by Huntington, as Obama has forged a white progressive minority interested by civil rights (i.e. gay marriage, abortion rights, etc.) with the other blocks of minorities of multiethnic America. The Democrat garnered the votes of 93% of African Americans, 70% of Latinos and 73% of Asians. The Latinos made the difference in Florida and Virginia, and they have broken the conservative block of the southwest, handing the President Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

But yet, Latino-Americans would be the ideal allies of the Republicans: they are Catholic, they live for their families, they don’t love the idea of gay marriage and they are conservative. They could woven into a conservatism of values, but they can’t accept the lowering of minimum benefits (their extended families need schooling and healthcare) and they don’t share a policy that deports immigrant workers who don’t have a green card (there are 12 million illegal immigrants).

These social groups that are so different share ideas, and their presence is felt in the United States. The white workers in Ohio and Michigan, unlike their colleagues in the rest of America, chose to vote Democratic because they felt more secure with the man who publicly bailed out the auto industry than with the Republican who claimed- in the name of market economy- that it would be better to let Detroit fail.

By studying the demographic, geographic and social shifts, Obama’s team has also understood that the vast majority of American women now see reproductive freedoms as central, and don’t want to feel that they are being ruled by a group of aging white men.

This winning coalition, destined to grow with the Latino demographic boom, puts Republicans in grave danger and requires them to rethink the very nature of the party.  But we also clearly have a President, more than ever, in charge of a country that is deeply polarized. Obama’s first challenge must be to demonstrate that he knows how to reunite an America that has grown so divided.

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