Since Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, Democrats have watched with dismay as the president has been vilified by opponents and as Washington, already polarized, has become downright toxic. (Republicans have their own ideas about when the polarization began.)
What had been a complicated patchwork of Democratic voting blocs before Obama has coalesced into fewer groups that are more unified. They’re not exactly moving in lock step — they never do — but their allegiance to the president has softened the usual party divisions.
His embrace of gay marriage is instructive: it was a galvanizing moment for supporters, and it didn’t seem to hurt him with the large blocs of Democrats who are socially conservative.
The 2012 Democratic herd is charted here along a left-to-right continuum of party loyalty, based chiefly on the Pew Research Center’s Political Typology as well as the views of political experts. The size of the donkey icons approximates the relative strength of each bloc.
Pew’s tracking of party affiliation shows that a growing number of Americans identify as independent. With party loyalists on both sides largely decided, “the race will move at the margins,” said Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic consultant. That’s why the campaigns are focused on identity groups: women, Latinos, older voters. Peeling off even slivers of these could well determine who wins the election...