America’s two major political parties are inevitably coalitions, forced by the winner-take-all Electoral College and the need of candidates in single-member congressional districts to amass 50 percent of the vote, or nearly that, to win election.
In a nation of America’s cultural variety, that means holding together groups that have different priorities and conflicting positions on issues.
So coalitions don’t last forever, and change composition over time. John Kennedy’s Democratic coalition united white Southerners and northern Catholics. Half a century later, Republican Mitt Romney carried white Southerners and white Catholics by wide margins.
Barack Obama’s Democratic Party is a top-and-bottom coalition, with affluent gentry liberals and blacks, single women, recent Hispanic immigrants and young voters — all groups of little political heft in Kennedy’s day.
Now in the sixth year of the Obama presidency, with his job approval stuck below 50 percent, there are signs of strain. And choices made earlier, when Democrats held congressional supermajorities, are starting to prove troublesome.
One choice was to not bring forward immigration legislation that would provide a path to legalization for immigrants in the country unlawfully. This was a top priority for the Hispanic Caucus, but Obama and Democratic congressional leaders chose not to advance an issue that would cost them the support of some Democrats and require Republican votes.