Each new US administration thinks it has found the secret of building a permanent majority for its party. Nixon thought he had secured endless GOP victories by bagging the white south. Reagan thought he had done it by winning working-class Democrats. Clinton thought his centrist New Democrats had forged a permanent marriage with the baby boomers and Karl Rove thought the suburbs and the demographic shift to the south and west would keep the Republicans in power for a generation. They were all wrong, yet Barack Obama’s team harbours the same ambition.
They are counting on two distinct demographic trends. The first is the rise of the millennial generation, the 93m Americans born between 1983 and 2002, who already outnumber baby boomers. When Obama runs for re-election in 2012, 61 per cent of them will be of voting age and by 2020 they will represent 36 per cent of the electorate. The millennials love Obama—recent Gallup analysis shows his approval ratings at 75 per cent among those under 30, compared to 66 per cent nationally.
Gallup’s survey of the millennials also finds that only 20 per cent describe themselves as Republicans, against 36 per cent as Democrats and 34 per cent as independents. Once forged, party loyalties tend to stick. So the millennials who grew up hating Bush could be in the Democratic camp for a long, long time. The second trend, one that White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel cites regularly, is the Hispanic vote. Between 2000 and 2006, Hispanics accounted for half the growth in the US population—and 67 per cent of Hispanics voted for Obama. The rise in numbers is due to high birth rates but Emmanuel is still pushing for a new immigration bill that will include amnesty for illegals, as it’s seen as the surest way to Hispanic hearts.
This item also appears in the June edition of Prospect. For subscription information, please see our website.