Are we seeing a political realignment? Certainly some of the ingredients are there. As presidents, Reagan and Clinton attracted young voters to their parties; G.W. Bush signally failed to do so. Obama, before he has started governing, has inspired fervent, even quasi-religious devotion from the young and has brought millions of them into the electorate.
Judging from the polls and from my first look at the election returns, I believe he has attracted to his party many affluent, highly educated voters in metro areas running south from Philadelphia to Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., and west to Denver and the Pacific. Democrats directed much rhetoric toward the white working class, but failed to win most of its votes. Instead, they assembled what you might call a top-and-bottom coalition: affluent suburbs plus blacks in central cities.
The Democrats have always been a party of unlikely coalitions, capable of expansion when their leaders perform well, susceptible to disarray when they falter. The roughhewn John Murtha helps bring the designer-dressed Nancy Pelosi to power; the African-American quasi-academic Obama inspires millions in the highest- and lowest-income ZIP codes. And, as McCain handsomely acknowledged, there is something genuinely thrilling in the spectacle of Americans electing a black president.
But presidents can build majority coalitions only through performance (see Bush, G.W.). As president, Obama faces daunting problems. How to fix a financial system no one seems to fully understand. How to defeat terrorist enemies sheltered in the territory of our putative ally Pakistan. How to live up to the high expectations so visible in the cheering and tearful faces in those crowds in Berlin, Invesco Field and Grant Park -- after a victory that was thrilling, but not quite what the Democrats hoped for.