Elections have consequences. President Barack Obama’s stunning re-election victory came dramatically from the same emerging majority coalition — a rainbow coalition — that brought him to the presidency in 2008.
At its heart are minorities, young people, single women and union households.
What do they want? These voters reflect America’s diversity. But they share one thing in common: They were the hardest hit by the recession and have had the hardest time recovering from it.
The president’s vote directly tracked income levels. He won a large majority of those making less than $50,000 a year and lost a majority of those making more. Romney was clearly the candidate of the 1 percent. Obama was the candidate of middle-, working-class and poor Americans; those in the middle class and those aspiring to get there.
They want action on jobs. They want action on wages, with overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage. They want investment in education and opportunity, so their children can get a good public education and afford to go to college. They want high-speed rail public transportation — which was rejected by the governors in New Jersey, Florida and Wisconsin — put back on the table. We can connect the jobs to where people live. We can make the steel, make the rail, lay the rail. The cost of energy-efficient transportation will reap rewards. We’ll all benefit and be more secure.
These are the most vulnerable of Americans, so when Washington talks about a deficit agreement, these Americans will have clear priorities. Like the vast majority of Americans, they want Social Security and Medicare protected, not cut. An election night poll by Campaign for America’s Future and Democracy Corps found that 62 percent of voters would find cuts in Social Security benefits unacceptable as part of a deficit agreement, and 79 percent would oppose cuts in Medicare benefits.
They support increasing taxes on the rich, as do a majority of voters. They join the stunning 72 percent of voters who would find unacceptable cuts in domestic discretionary spending such as “education, child nutrition, and worker training and disease control.” They stand with the 75 percent who would find unacceptable deep across-the-board cuts that don’t protect programs for “infants, poor children, schools and college aid.”
Obama’s majority came significantly from our cities. What do urban residents need? They need a plan to rebuild America’s cities. They suffer from a decrepit and outmoded infrastructure — aging sewers, inadequate and costly mass transit, vulnerable electric grids, underfunded schools and inadequate public parks and programs. They need affordable housing that is energy-efficient. They need jobs desperately.
The president’s real mandate — and his real opportunity — is to lay out a plan for revitalizing our cities. This will help get the economy going and put people to work. It will decrease poverty, despair and the hopelessness that feeds drugs and depression. And as people go to work, they start paying taxes and stop collecting unemployment insurance — and that helps bring deficits down.
Clearly, the big issues of poverty, racial disparity, gender inequality and violence will not go away on their own. We must drive them away with opportunities of hope as the live alternatives to hurt, hatred and despair. The president’s voters want jobs, not cuts in vital programs. They want a plan to rebuild our cities — not a plan to cut vital security programs and continue to starve vital investments in our cities.
These voters have stood up for the president, now the president has a clear mandate to stand up for them.