There’s a reason why President Barack Obama has chosen to put gun control at the top of his second-term agenda. No issue draws as bright a line between the Old America and the New America as the gun issue. It will keep his coalition mobilized – the New America coalition that delivered for him in the election: working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish and Muslim voters, young people, gays and educated professionals.
Obama paid tribute to the New America in his second Inaugural Address on Monday. “We possess all the qualities,” Obama declared, “that this world without boundaries demands, youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”
Obama insisted “our journey is not complete” until the country finds a “better way to welcome striving hopeful immigrants,” until “our wives, mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” until “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” and until all our children – including those on “the quiet lanes of Newtown” – know that they are “always safe from harm.”
According to the January Washington Post-ABC News poll, 68 percent of Democrats do not have a gun in their household. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans do. Among Democrats, 53 percent say passing stricter gun control laws should be given the highest priority; only 19 percent of Republicans feel the same way.
The New America coalition can deliver in presidential elections. Democrats have won the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential contests. But that coalition is not as reliable in midterm elections, unless it’s mobilized by an impeachment issue (1998) or an antiwar issue (2006). Nor is it particularly reliable in battles over legislation. Obama nearly lost the healthcare fight because his coalition got out-organized by the Tea Party.