The Disappearance of the The Emerging Democratic Majority: The Failure of a Thesis (Updated)

In 2004, John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira wrote an acclaimed and seemingly prescient book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Their thesis was based on a demographic analysis, which led them to predict the end of any future Republican ascendancy. As Judis summed up their thesis after the Obama landslide of 2008, Obama’s “election is the culmination of a Democratic realignment that began in the 1990s, was delayed by September 11, and resumed with the 2006 election. This realignment is predicated on a change in political demography and geography. Groups that had been disproportionately Republican have become disproportionately Democratic, and red states like Virginia have turned blue. Underlying these changes has been a shift in the nation's ‘fundamentals’--in the structure of society and industry, and in the way Americans think of their families, jobs, and government. The country is no longer ‘America the conservative.’  And, if Obama acts shrewdly to consolidate this new majority, we may soon be ‘America the liberal.’”  Therefore, those commentators who argued that the United States was still a center/right nation were dead wrong.

The realignment, according to the two authors, took place reflecting  “the shift that began decades ago toward a post-industrial economy centered in large urban-suburban metropolitan areas devoted primarily to the production of ideas and services rather than material goods.” And living in these areas were the three main groups that composed the new Democratic majority: professionals, minorities, and women. With Obama’s victory, Judis predicted, a national crisis would produce “popular willingness to entertain dramatic initiatives.” And, moreover, President Obama would not “face the same formidable adversaries” that had faced Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in previous Democratic administrations.

As for Judis’ advice to the new president, he argued Obama should not move slowly and opt for incremental reforms but move forcefully to a full-fledged commitment to the kind of fundamental transformation of America he promised his left-wing base.

Skip ahead to the present -- a scant two years later. The reality today is precisely the opposite of what John B. Judis predicted. His permanent Democratic majority has turned out to be illusory. As a front-page story in The New York Times explained, the coalition that gave Obama his electoral majority in 2008 is fraying apart at the seams. As the story noted, “Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents. All of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for Congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.”

Moreover, 57 percent of voters surveyed preferred to vote for inexperienced and untested candidates rather than cast their ballot for any Democrat. The shift was also reflected geographically. “Among poll respondents from the Western United States, more said they expected to vote for Republicans this year than said they expected to vote for Democrats; majorities of voters from that region voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for Congressional Democrats in 2006, according to the exit polls taken in those elections.” So, contrary to Judis and Teixeira, geography is evidently not always destiny.

In an accompanying story in the same day’s Times, a reporter for the paper found that even in the UAW stronghold of Defiance, Ohio, many of its union residents were drifting over to Republican ranks. This was occurring despite the stimulus and the extension of unemployment benefits that were welcomed by a town where 13 percent of its populace had lost their jobs.

As reporter Erik Eckholm wrote, “bonds to the Democratic Party seem to be loosening here in northwest Ohio, after two years of hardship and a growing sense that many children will be financially worse off than their parents. Skepticism about big government has hardened, especially among the small-business owners who are an increasingly dominant civic voice.”  A woman who ran an insurance agency and supported Obama protested that “he rammed health care down our throats,” and she was furious at the bail-outs of AIG and the big banks. The town’s mayor, who worked at GM back when it hired many of the town’s residents, put it this way: “I don’t hear a lot of support for Obama in this area.”