Krystal Vega did not hesitate when she punched the hole next to Barack Obama’s name last November.
She had campaigned for him by making phone calls and telling anybody who would listen why Obama was the best candidate for the White House.
Vega, a 21-year-old Mexican American who grew up in La Verne, used her first presidential vote in her life to help elect Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
Many people like Vega have become the backbone for Obama, and have sparked what has been classified as a new wave of liberalism, one that includes large voter turnout from minorities, young voters and new voters.
Minority voters overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama over John McCain; Obama earned 95 percent of the black vote and 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. The organized youth vote, 18-29 years of age, supported Obama by 66-32 percentage points. New voters, like Vega, supported Obama by a 39 percent margin.
It was no surprise that Obama would win the younger generation and minority voters, although the margin by which he won was overwhelming.
His ability to win such a high percentage of new voters is actually part of an apparent trend in new and younger voters leaning to the left.
“You never know until after the fact,” said Jason Neidleman, associate professor of political science at the University of La Verne.
“It has happened a few times in our history and after the 2006 and 2008 elections it seems more and more likely we are headed in a liberal direction. But I think we will only be able to know for sure in a decade.”
“(Obama) gave minorities hope,” Vega said. “His message of change was not just his slogan, it was reality. It gave me confidence that a better life is in our future.”
The growing minorities in solid ‘blue’ states and the increasing number in ‘red’ states could prove to be a dominant political advantage for the Democrats as well.
According to the book “How Barack Obama Won,” by Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser, published in 2009, “The building blocks for a political realignment are clearly in place. The Democratic Party’s advantages in fast-growing states and faster growing demographics indicate the possibility the party could go on a run that mirrors the Republican success story from 1980 to 2004.”
The Historic Low for Bush
Whether this new liberal political alignment has taken effect has yet to be seen and future elections will indicate its growth, but certain signs certainly show the likelihood of such an event. The dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration’s eight years in power can be seen as the grounds for this potential realignment.
“George W. Bush had a massive impact on the Democratic dominance in the past two elections,” Neidleman said. “The things he handled extremely poorly, to name a few, were Iraq, Katrina and the deregulation of the economy.”
Paul Krugman, professor of economics at Princeton University and op-ed columnist for the New York Times wrote in the new introduction of his book “The Conscience of a Liberal,” published in 2009, “America is ready for a new, progressive political agenda. Polling data showed that American voters had been shifting to the left on a number of issues, and the 2006 congressional elections were a stunning victory for the Democrats, who brought an abrupt end to the supposedly permanent Republican majority.”
Seven out of 10 Americans were dissatisfied at the job performance of George W. Bush when he left office, one of the historic lows for a president.
John McCain’s campaign had not only Obama to beat, but it had to separate the McCain campaign from the low approval ratings of Bush. It did not help that McCain voted the same as Bush 95 percent of the time and accepted his endorsement during the campaign.
Economic Trust and Policy
The issues that faced the candidates in 2008 were the economic meltdown, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, taxes, health care and the environment.
The Republican Party has been known to support tax breaks for the richest of Americans, hoping that their wealth would trickle down to their businesses, which create jobs. They also have an ideological difference with Democrats as to how much regulation should be put onto the private sector.
Obama proposed middle class tax cuts, which ultimately affect a larger number of minorities and younger people, and vowed to raise taxes on the richest 2.5 percent of Americans.
“Historically the pendulum has swung right to left,” said Richard Gelm, professor of political science and chairman of the history and political science department at the University of La Verne. “When the economy goes down people usually look for regulation to bring us out of it which means significant involvement from the government.”
The Democrats support regulating the marketplace, they site the need for regulation in order to prevent corruption; 63 percent of Americans who voted said that the economy was the most important factor when determining who to vote for. Obama won more than half of that groups vote, 53-44 percent.
Young and Minority Voters
The majority of young voters since the 1960s have supported the Democratic Party. Though in the 1990s and the early part of this century, the pendulum among that age group had swung to the Right. The election of Obama, who captured 66 percent of the vote from people aged 18-29, seems to have put the majority of that age group firmly back on the Left – along with new voters, who Obama won by a 69-30 percent margin.
“The younger generation, people 18-29, is much more open to diversity,” Gelm said. “And they are much more open to liberal social programs such as abortion and gay marriage. It will be difficult for the Republicans to achieve majority status if they continue their same social programs.
“At some point people will realize that the culture war is a failure and they have been used by conservatives,” said Neidleman. “These new voters accept liberal social programs, and historically, once you have voted for a party two or three times then usually you remain loyal to them for the rest of your life.”
“His charisma was what got me enticed,” said Alan Weinreb, 22-year-old psychology major at the University of La Verne and first-time voter. “Like any politician he made promises, but his promises were geared more toward the younger generation.”
The number of minority voters is also increasing and they are increasing in states that usually are secured easily by Republicans.
For example, since 2000, Florida has been a hotly contested battleground state. However the population in Florida has changed considerably, coming mainly from the migration of Cubans, Central and South Americans and Caribbean Islanders and they chose Obama two-thirds of the time in the election.
“I’m a Democrat and he seemed like somebody well spoken,” said Steven Urena, 23-year-old Mexican-American movement and sports science major at the University of La Verne and second-time voter. “It seems like he cares about making a change in this country and he takes a lot of pride in his job. He ran his campaign around helping everybody not just minorities.”
Pushing Liberal Policy
With Obama’s support across the country and his high approval ratings – the Gallup Poll had him at 65 percent approval rating as of April 26 – the administration is using its popularity to promote a liberal agenda.
Obama’s proposed budget emphasizes a platform that has been deemed ‘liberal’ lately. Large sums of money to the environment, health care and education are going to be debated heavily in the Senate and will need their confirmation in order to get passed, but Obama has put enormous pressure on the members of the 111th Congress in order to act on these pressing social issues.
“Obama’s proposed budget highlights programs that are much needed in America,” Gelm said. “We have lacked a national health care system and any sort of environmental policy.”
Obama proposes $39 billion to the department of energy in an effort to promote energy programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
He has established a reserve fund of more than $630 billion over 10 years to finance fundamental reform of our health care system that will bring down costs and expand coverage.
And the budget includes a new five-year, $2.5 billion Access and Completion Incentive Fund to support innovative State efforts to help low-income students succeed and complete their college education.
“These new ideas are ready for implementation in our country,” said Vega. “Each of his actions in this budget was directly for the people, something our country has lacked for years now.”
“His budget will not only tackle short term problems but will begin progress on our long term problems,” said Neidleman. “Being a leftist myself I think the budget is about perfect, from a political science standpoint it can be viewed as ambitious.”
The leading opposition is coming from the Republican Party, who deems the budget as a socialist agenda that emphasizes too much spending and will leave future generations with an unmanageable debt.
“What we see is scary,” said Sen. Richard Shelby when he appeared on a CBS affiliate in San Francisco. “The budget projects huge deficits and then ultimately debt. I see, in the budget, the road to financial destruction.”
On April 2, Republican house minority leader John Boehner said on the floor of the House,”The fact is that if you look at this budget, it spends too much, it taxes too much and it puts too much debt on the backs of our kids and grandkids.”
To the contrary, in his article “We Are All Socialists Now” published on February 16, 2009, the editor of Newsweek, John Meacham wrote, “…we are headed in a more European direction. And in the long run, an aging population, global warming and higher energy costs will demand more government taxing and spending.”
Are We Ready for Change?
It seems Americans said they were ready for a new type of liberalism with the election of Barack Obama. With a growing number of citizens identifying with a liberal agenda, and fewer with a conservative one, America seems to be destined for a political realignment.
Whether this trend becomes cemented in our political culture rests largely on how well Barack Obama handles the economic crisis. In the past, this emphasis on social spending could be viewed as politically risky, but the times in which we live social spending might be the only way to resurrect our economic situation.
If the recent elections in 2006 and 2008 tell us anything it is that America has arrived at a place where social spending and reaching out to the new American voter is not viewed as a liberal agenda, but rather an American one.
Kevin Garrity can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.