Does this 2008 Presidential election represent a realignment that puts Democrats in a commanding position for at least a generation? If we can assume that young voters, who gave Barack Obama their overwhelming support, will continue to vote for Democrats, the answer would seem to be yes.
According to national Election Day exit polls, voters ages 18-29 voted for Obama over Republican John McCain by a 66%-32% margin. Two other groups gave even higher levels of support to Obama: African-Americans at 95% and Latinos at 67%. African-American allegiance to Democrats is long-standing and rock-solid. Loyalty to Democrats among Latinos is growing, but does not have the history of African-American support. Four years ago, they favored Democrat John Kerry, 53%-40%.
Young African-Americans and Latinos were part of the generational wave to Obama. What may be more telling are the votes of white 18- to 29-year-olds, especially in each state. That data is available from the national exit polls for 46 states.
The national numbers show that Obama beat McCain among whites ages 18-29 by 54%-44%. For all white voters, McCain won, 55%-43%. Among each of the other voter are groupings (30-44, 45-64 and 65-plus), McCain's margin averaged 16 points.
If a Democrat can win the white vote in any state, that candidate's chances of taking the state are nearly certain. The national exit polls showed 21 states where Obama won the white 18-29 demographic by at least 10 points. Those states total 284 electoral votes. Among the states where data for that group was not available are Oregon, Washington and Vermont, where one would expect the young white vote for Obama surpassed the 10-point mark. Data was also not available for Washington, DC and its reliable three Democratic Electoral votes.
With those states included, Democrats currently have a hold on young white voters in states with 308 Electoral votes, 38 more than the 270 needed for election. Obama won all of those states, as well as these where he lost a majority of the white 18-29 group: Florida, Virginia and New Mexico. Data was not available for the one other state won by Obama, Colorado.
The obvious question is whether these young whites voted for Obama based on his personality and message, or whether their support is also due to issue and philosophy positions that separate Democrats from Republicans. Also, will new voters over the next 10 years have the same worldview as today's 18- to 29-year-olds?
At Zogby International, we have closely monitored the attitudes of young adults. In my book, The Way We Will Be, I use polling data to show that this First Global generation is more liberal, but not in a strictly orthodox political sense. In the book, I write:
"Are the kids politically 'liberal?' That depends on whose 'liberal agenda' you're talking about. Are they liberal in a dictionary sense - that is, are they broad-minded, free of orthodoxy, willing to think things through on their own, resistant to imposed answers? Absolutely."
Those attitudes made Obama the ideal candidate for our First Globals. A generation so open to diversity and resistant to pat answers was naturally drawn to a man of mixed race who offered hope and practical approaches to solving national and world problems.
However, does that make them Democrats for the rest of their lives? How well Democrats wield power for global betterment is a part of the answer. Will absolute power again corrupt absolutely? Or will Democrats work to achieve that broadly defined liberal agenda embraced by the First Globals? Time will tell.
We can say with some certainty that these First Globals reject the Republicanism practiced by the dominant wing of the GOP, which appears to reject diversity and the new global realities of interdependence and connectedness. Republicans have no choice but to change their beliefs if they have any hope of coaxing First Globals into any new and truly big GOP tent. The same forces that have shaped today's under 30 voters look to be doubling down for the next wave of young adults. It is unlikely that current Republican orthodoxy will look any better to them.
It is always possible that the Obama Administration could fail, or that world events could make even our First Globals turn inward to the GOP due to fear for personal and national survival. Counting on either is not a sound strategy for the Republican Party.
We could see great political upheaval forced by First Globals and those that follow. Will Republicans become a minor party wed to the past and rejected by the coming majority? Will Democrats continue to adapt in practical ways to world problems, or will its own orthodoxy sour tomorrow's mainstream? Will Republicans evolve into the party that moves beyond old ideologies and deals with change with a small-c conservative approach; or will a new political party emerge that fits that description?
John Zogby is President and CEO of Zogby International and the author of The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House).
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