Democrats Struggle to Hold Coalition Together as Key Voting Blocs Shift

President Joe Biden's reelection prospects received a major blow last week in a prominent poll that found most Democratic voters don't want him to seek a second term. The latest New York Times/Siena College poll has set off alarm bells in the Party, fueling the debate about whether Biden should, or will, run for reelection in the year he turns 82.

But Democratic operatives zeroed in on another, overlooked warning sign in the poll that could spell long-term trouble for the Party, regardless of its nominee in 2024 and beyond: in a first for the national survey, Democrats received more support from white college-educated voters than they did from nonwhite voters.

The finding appears to show cracks in the Obama coalition, the alignment of young, nonwhite and college-educated women and men that propelled former President Barack Obama to the White House and helped elect Biden in 2020. It also suggested the center of gravity in the Party has shifted to wealthier, more progressive white voters with college degrees.

"Democratic leaders would like to tell themselves that they still maintain that alliance with working class voters," said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. "But the polling numbers don't always bear that out these days."

Republicans pointed to the survey as further proof that the Democratic Party caters to wealthy, white, college-educated progressives who hold far-left views on issues like abortion, climate change and gun control. That argument was a core part of former President Donald Trump's populist message, and has become increasingly popular on the right as Republicans seek to win back control of Congress in the midterm elections.

Jay Williams, a Republican consultant in Georgia, told Newsweek that the perception used to be that "the rich stockbroker types were Republican, and the Democratic Party had a union-oriented, nine-to-five, hardhat mentality. That's completely changed."

Most Democrats dismiss the notion that Trump turned the Republican Party into the champion of working class America. But progressive Democrats have voiced growing concern in recent years that the Party has not focused enough on the economic struggles of lower-income families of all races and ethnicities.

Biden's low approval rating among Democrats underscores the frustration many feel about the lack of progress on criminal justice, immigration reform, climate change and other issues he promised to tackle as a candidate, said David Dixon, the Democratic Party chairman for Durham County, in North Carolina.

abortion protests
House Democrats participate in a sit-in in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on July 19, 2022 in Washington, DC. Abortion is likely to be a major issue in the 2022 midterm elections. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Dixon said he was concerned turnout among Black and Latino voters could drop in the midterms in North Carolina, a battleground state with a competitive Senate race that could help determine control of the Senate next year.

"For Black voters and voters of color in general, there is a level of apathy based on promises made over the last couple of election cycles that just haven't really come to fruition," said Dixon, who is Black. "It is difficult trying to remind folks that some of these policies take time, and you have to keep voting."

Recent election results suggest the Democrats have some reason to worry.

In 2020, 12% of Black voters backed Trump, on par with his performance in 2016. But Trump made inroads with Black men, winning 19% of their vote compared to 13% four years earlier.

Trump made gains among Latino voters as well, suggesting Democrats can't take the fast-growing voting bloc for granted in future elections. Trump won 32% percent of the Latino vote in 2020, a four-point increase from 2016 and the best showing by a Republican presidential nominee since former President George W. Bush in 2004.

Still, others cautioned voters of color aren't abandoning the Democratic Party.

Biden and Hillary Clinton both received at least 87% of the Black vote, slightly less than Obama did in his two White House campaigns, but in line with the average level of support that most Democratic presidential nominees have gotten in recent decades.

And while support for Democrats among Latinos varies by nationality, age, education level and other factors, overall the majority of Latino voters remain loyal to the Democratic Party. The same is true for Asian American voters, the fastest-growing minority voting group in the country.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on climate change and clean energy at Brayton Point Power Station on July 20, 2022 in Somerset, Massachusetts. Scott Eisen/Getty Images

At the same time, the percentage of voters that are white and don't have a college degree — a core part of Trump's base — has declined steadily for several elections. In the 2020 election, it dropped below 40% for the first time, according to exit poll data.

"White non-college voters continue to be a shrinking part of the population," said William Frey, a leading demographer at Brookings. He added that "anything can happen," but that "the demographics are such" that they will likely continue to favor the Democratic Party for the foreseeable future.

Frey pointed to the 2020 election results in Arizona and Georgia, two key battleground states that helped Biden beat Trump. Trump increased turnout in those states among white, non college-educated voters by 10% and 9%, respectively, from 2016 to 2020 — yet he still lost both states due to a spike in support for Biden among Latino and Black voters.

Support from Latino and Black voters, as well as college-educated whites and suburbanites of all races and ethnicities, also helped Biden carry other swing states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

But that was a presidential election. Turnout across both parties is typically lower in midterm elections, though this year the issues of abortion and gun control could increase voter interest on both sides of the aisle.

Aliza Astrow, a senior political analyst at the left-leaning think tank Third Way who studies U.S. voting patterns, told Newsweek that as the party in power presiding over a period of soaring inflation, high gas prices and economic uncertainty, Democrats will need a large turnout from voters across their coalition to avoid losing control of the House and Senate.

To keep their coalition intact, Astrow said, Democrats will have to find a way to appeal to voters of color with a diverse range of educational backgrounds and views, while also winning back the white, college-educated voters in suburban House districts who voted for Biden two years ago but may now be frustrated with his administration.

"In 2020, Democrats were able to hold together this really broad coalition because they had Trump, who was sort of the bogeyman," Astrow said.

But changing demographics have made that more difficult.

"As Democrats have come to rely more on college voters," she said, " it's gotten much harder to hold that broader coalition together."