Obama’s win really does usher in a new era

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, November 10, 2008 17:24 EDT
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The post-election coverage of Obama’s startling blow out of a win—besides the nonsense attempts to pressure him into being conservative—was mostly about the coalition that he built that grabbed more college-educated white people than Democrats traditionally get. But while the campaign deserves mountains of credit for doing such an amazing job, they didn’t create the coalition so much as tapped something that has been forming for awhile. Joe Conason has an article up at Salon reminding everyone that as far back as 2002, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira were predicting that what happened would happen, that the emerging Democratic majority would start producing startling wins in some parts of the country in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen similar analysis, and one facet of it is very interesting, which is the idea that urban liberals’ influence is increasingly spreading out over the country, and isn’t confined to the coasts.

Election maps and exit poll data both suggest that this year’s Democratic victories were grounded in that coalition. In the cities that Judis and Teixeira dubbed “ideopolises,” those postindustrial metropolitan areas where tolerance and creativity rule, from Colorado in the Mountain West to Virginia and North Carolina in the Southeast, the Democrats displayed new and growing appeal. White voters with a college education used to vote Republican and still do, but the trend is in the opposite direction. Barack Obama cut George W. Bush’s margin among this group from 11 percent to 4 percent, according to Tuesday’s exit polls, and he won white voters with postgraduate degrees by a margin of 10 points.

We’re already seen this influence on states like Illinois, where Chicago rules politics and, more recently, Seattle has started to dominate Washington politics and Portland is doing the same in Oregon. I live in a classic example of a magnet city, so I know what they’re talking about—white people who live in the country or even the suburbs (perhaps even fleeing the city because of racist “white flight” motivations) see their kids grow up and move directly to the city—and not so much New York anymore, but also local cities of the St. Louis/Denver variety—because that’s where they can get a good education and good jobs. Once there, they become more liberal and beef up the number of Democratic voters, often to the point where the city starts canceling out the votes in the more Republican parts of the state.

A funny story about this—I had read enough about this to start expecting to see more red states turn blue just on the numbers in the city when we were watching the election returns in 2006. And CNN, if I recall correctly, called Virginia for George Allen before Richmond and the populous northern part of the state had reported yet. And I said to Marc, they’re going to eat those words, because it’s close enough that the cities will move it over to the Jim Webb column. Ding ding ding! They were much wiser about it this year. Which leads me to a more interesting point made by Conason in this article, which is that the suburbs are not reliably red anymore, either.

Still more troubling for the Republicans is that the ideology of the ideopolis now seems to extend into the surrounding suburban areas, where the Democrats cut deep into traditionally Republican counties, racking up victories in places they have not won for decades. The same population groups that tend to be loyal Democrats have moved into those counties, contesting local elections that used to feature token opposition at best.

I would have guessed that it’s because it’s cheaper to live in the suburbs than the city, so lower income people who work in service industry jobs migrate there, especially since there are plenty of service industry jobs in the shopping mall-dominated suburbs. But according to the Washington Post, it’s the inroads made by Obama with white, college-educated people that shifted the balance of power. That makes sense, because the middle class is really feeling the squeeze right now, but it does worry me that this group will slide right back into voting based on racist, sexist appeals made by right wingers once the economy is not tanking. The one thing working against Republicans is that they’ve been exposed as the party of anti-intellectual wingnuts, the sort of crazies people don’t want to identify with. In fact, it’s such that even Ross Douthat is cautiously admitting that maybe it would be smart for Republicans to scale back on the nuttery, and stick just to anti-abortion nuttery instead of going full scale anti-contraception and waging war on evolutionary theory. That’s not the worst idea is the world—people are remarkably sympathetic to anti-choicers as long as they pretend it’s about “life”, but the second the mask slips and you see the real agenda—anti-sex, anti-science, anti-modernism—then people back away and cover their wallets.

But on the whole, I think even Douthat’s ideas will only get them ahead for an election or two. We’re seeing demographic trends that incline me to think that the Republicans are going to have to suck it up and move to the left if they want to stay alive.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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