Despite a flagging economy and energized opposition, President Obama assembled a winning coalition that delivered him a second term in the White House. Yet even in the wake of this successful election, it is important to note that the championing of liberal social issues that formed a key part of the Obama campaign’s rhetoric poses a long-term threat to the Democratic Party’s electoral chances.
Rhetoric matters. And rhetoric created cracks even in Obama’s winning coalition, cracks that show up when we look at the exit polling. The Pew Forum found that Obama’s margins held fairly steady among most religious and racial groups—white evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics—but dropped markedly among white Catholics.
The University of Akron’s John Green believes that this drop came because of the Obama administration’s embrace—and vocal defense—of the so-called HHS Mandate. As The Denver Post’s Eric Gorski wrote, “[T]hose unlikely to be swayed by the bishops’ focus on abortion may have been more open to the religious liberty argument, even if they disagree with (and ignore) the church’s ban on artificial contraception.”
Green and Gorski are right. Despite carefully targeted ads suggesting Republicans wanted to ban contraception (no Republican candidate has made such a proposal), Obama actually lost ground among women, winning 55 percent of female votes versus 56 percent in 2008. Obama’s vocal backing of liberal social issues may have energized activists, but it did not sway many swing voters.
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