A Party Whose Allegiances Continue to Shift

By , John Benson is senior opinion analyst and Marc Maynard is senior research librarian at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut. Reviews of opinion data are a regular feature of "The Public Opinion and Demographic Report," which the Center helps prepare for American Enterprise magazine.

THE Democratic Party that holds its convention next week will be strikingly different from the New Deal coalition that dominated American politics at mid-century.

Some elements of the old coalition persist: Democrats are still strongest among lower income and lesser educated groups, and among blacks. But the once solid South is now evenly split in party allegiance, and Southern whites are among the Republicans' strongest adherents. The Catholic vote is likewise split. The gender gap that first appeared in 1980 persists, giving Democrats a relative advantage among women.

For decades the youngest age group favored the Democrats, while the oldest cleaved to the GOP. But recent polls show a decided Republican advantage among the young, with Democrat allegiance strongest among older voters, who came of age politically during the Depression.

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Survey work on the make-up of 1992 Democratic delegates is not available, but a glance at the last four conventions provides some interesting insights. Women have had a larger numerical role at Democratic than at Republican conventions, and black representation was particularly high in 1984 and 1988, when Jesse Jackson was a candidate. Of course, union members are strongly represented, but particularly striking is the large number of teachers.

Delegates to the 1988 convention were somewhat more liberal than the Democratic rank-and-file. But it is typically the case (and certainly so among the Republicans) that group leaders are more "extreme" in their views than their followers.

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