President Obama owes a big political debt to four constituencies that were key to his successful bid for re-election—Hispanics, women, young people, and African Americans—and this could shape his agenda in fundamental ways for the next four years.
In an effort aimed mostly at Hispanics, a new push for overhaul of the immigration laws could be Obama's most far-reaching initiative. Obama signaled during the campaign that he wanted such legislation, designed to create a pathway to legal residency or citizenship for people who entered the United States illegally. Obama's support for such legislation helped generate overwhelming support for him in the Hispanic community. He also was praised by Hispanics for directing, by executive action, that children who were brought into the United States by their illegal-immigrant parents would have a path to legal residency.
Obama won an estimated 71 percent of the Hispanic vote on Tuesday, compared with Republican nominee Mitt Romney's 27 percent.
Republican George W. Bush did much better than Romney among Hispanics in his two successful campaigns for the White House. Bush won 44 percent of Hispanics in 2004 and 35 percent in 2000. This rejection of the GOP, or at least of Mitt Romney, by Latinos may encourage Republicans to cooperate on immigration reform, White House strategists say.
Vice President Joe Biden told reporters, "I feel very optimistic about, in my view, immigration reform. Because as we talked about with most of the Hispanic communities I spoke with over the last month, it played a major role. And that's got to be a wake-up call for a lot of my Republican colleagues."
Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employes International Union who helped organize Latino voters in battleground states this fall, told Politico, "The Latino giant is wide awake, cranky and taking names."
In addition to Hispanics, women supported Obama with a majority of their votes, and single women gave him an enormous advantage, with 67 percent backing Obama. He is expected to acknowledge the power of the female electorate in a number of ways, possibly by naming another woman to the Supreme Court if a vacancy occurred. Obama has already named two women justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
And he is expected to continue policies that are important to many women, especially young and middle-aged single women, such as supporting abortion rights and insuring the availability of contraception under health-insurance policies.
Young people gave Obama 60 percent of their vote. This was a decline from 66 percent in 2008. But young people became even more important politically because the share of those 18 to 29 in the electorate increased to 19 percent from 18 percent. It's likely that Obama will aim at this constituency by pushing for more federal aid to education, and by defending the health care law passed during Obama's first term. That law has brought many young people under their parents' health insurance policies, a popular provision among those in their late teens and twenties.
African Americans gave Obama 93 percent of their vote and turned out in vast numbers for him. For many months, African-American leaders have been urging Obama to develop a "black agenda" to help their communities, which have endured disproportionately high unemployment rates and other problems. Obama has rejected these entreaties, arguing that his overall policies such as healthcare overhaul help everyone, including African Americans. But he could reconsider in a second term. He could, for example, develop new initiatives to reduce the high incarceration rate among African-American men, and to reduce racial profiling.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of five books, including most recently Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook or Twitter.