Barack Obama made history again.
Four years ago, he became the first African American elected president, riding a wave of hope and promises of change. On Tuesday -- with victories in such crucial states as Wisconsin, Iowa and finally Ohio -- he became the first president since Franklin Roosevelt to win a second term when unemployment was so high and voters so uneasy about the nation's future.
He achieved that by forging a coalition of America's rising electorate: African Americans, Hispanics and young people from the Millennial generation, plus some whites, especially women. The fact that Republican rival Mitt Romney carried solid majorities of older voters and whites, and that he was preferred by voters on the economic issues that dominated the election, wasn't enough to carry this new day.
Indeed, Romney won the biggest majority of the white vote of any presidential candidate in U.S. history who then failed to win the White House.
Obama's first election in 2008 demonstrated the possibilities of a coalition of this emerging electorate, and his re-election shows that coalition is here to stay, says political analyst Ruy Teixeira, co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority. "Even in a pretty difficult economy, it's got staying power; it sticks with the incumbent enough to re-elect him."
Tuesday's results and surveys of voters as they left polling places tell the story of a American electorate that has divided into two distinct and evenly matched camps. And it underscores the challenges ahead for governing in what will continue to be a divided government.
The American electorate split in two Tuesday -- not only along lines of political party and ideology but also by race and ethnicity, gender and marital status, region and religion, education and age. The divisions are even sharper than they were four years ago, when Obama attracted broader support, especially among whites.
This time the contest was much closer in a country that is undergoing tectonic shifts in its demography. "We have never had a more polarized electorate," Republican pollster Whit Ayres says.
If there was one thing that seemed to unite the nation, it was a sense that the stakes were high and the election mattered. Voters stood in lines for hours in South Florida; polling places in some parts of Virginia were held long past the scheduled 7 p.m. closing to accommodate waiting voters.
"We're all in this together," Obama said in a tweet he sent just after 11:20 p.m., when the TV networks declared him the winner. "That's how we campaigned, and that's who we are. Thank you. -- bo"
The economy swamped every other issue. Six in 10 called it the most important issue in deciding their vote and 15% cited the federal budget deficit, according to surveys of voters as they left polling places. A majority of both sets of voters backed Romney.
So it was a testament to the strength of the president's support that those economic concerns didn't simply settle the election in Romney's favor -- although it was a much closer election than his easy victory over Republican John McCain four years ago.
On Obama's side this time: More than nine of 10 African Americans and nearly seven in 10 Hispanics. A solid majority of women and two-thirds of unmarried women. About six in 10 of voters under 30. More than 90% of Democrats and nearly 90% of liberals. More than six in 10 of those who don't attend religious services.
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