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The numbers reveal a dominant new Democratic coalition

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

As analysts continue mining data from last November's U.S. election, it becomes clear that the electorate has undergone a fundamental demographic and ideological shift. A new, broad, deep Democratic coalition dominates the electoral map.

That doesn't mean Republicans can't win the House or the Senate or even the White House now and then. Dwight Eisenhower appropriated a decades-old Democratic coalition in the 1950s, and Bill Clinton - relying in part on third-party splits - had to overcome the Reagan-Bush Republican coalition in the 1990s.

But a dominant new Democratic coalition has arrived, and it could be around for a long time. Fundamental coalition shifts happen three or four times in a lifetime. One is happening now.

The legacies of slavery, Jim Crow and poverty suppressed the African-American vote generation after generation. But beginning in the 1980s, participation rates began to edge up, as more black voters entered the middle class and became politically engaged.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report on the ethnic makeup of the 2008 electorate. Buoyed by Barack Obama's candidacy, the black participation rate spiked upward by five percentage points.

In 2008, the black voter participation rate was within one percentage point of the white voter participation rate. Those words don't just deserve italics. They deserve big, bold headline type. For the first time, African-Americans were full participants in a U.S. election. And 94 per cent of them voted Democrat.

The Republicans are reaping the whirlwind of their Southern strategy, conceived in the 1960s to attract white Southern voters angry over African-Americans acquiring civil rights.

That strategy presupposed that the black vote would remain suppressed. No more.

Latino participation rates also went up, by almost three percentage points, to 50 per cent of eligible voters. Some Latinos are attracted to the social conservatism of the Republican Party, but most are put off by its anti-immigration elements and its lack of concern for the working poor. In 2004, Latinos split 60-40 toward the Democrats; in 2008, it was two-thirds, one-third.

Among Asians, it was 62 per cent for Mr. Obama, 35 per cent for John McCain.

Mr. McCain won the white vote 55 per cent to 43 per cent. But the non-white vote now accounts for a quarter of all votes cast, and only the non-white population is growing.

Other studies examine different elements of the new Democratic coalition. Voters under 30 supported Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain by better than two to one, and the Millennials punched at their weight, comprising 17 per cent of the population and 18 per cent of the vote. As well, a narrow majority of people with university degrees supported Mr. Obama, a group that had leaned Republican in recent elections.

"Put starkly, the voting groups growing in numbers - Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, folks with college degrees, the young - are all trending Democratic," conservative pundit Pat Buchanan glumly concluded in a column this week, "while the voters most loyal to the GOP - white folks and religious conservatives - are declining as a share of the U.S. electorate. And demography is destiny."

Strangely, Mr. Buchanan went on to dismiss this fundamental realignment of political forces as a one-off consequence of George. W. Bush's unpopularity. He noted that "values voters" - those who cast a ballot based on the values of the candidates, and who are considered to be socially conservative - went for Mr. McCain over Mr. Obama two-to-one.

"A conservative who could have sharpened the social, moral and cultural differences might, from the exit polls, have done far better," he concluded. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, your party awaits you.

This is a fatal misread of the situation. The United States is shifting slightly to the left, led by younger voters, minority voters and better-educated voters who want to see better access to health care and quality education, within a framework of balanced budgets. They want to see a responsible approach to the environment and a more modest posture in foreign relations.

They have been galvanized by Barack Obama, yes, but in any given election, these values will inform their priorities, regardless of the candidate.

A Republican Party that concentrates instead on "sharpening the social, moral and cultural differences," is headed for oblivion. Or at least, more often than not, defeat.

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