The conversations suggested a hierarchy of risk for Democrats in the big social debates filling headlines. With both blue- and white-collar voters, the civil-union legislation prompted the widest agreement, with many going further to endorse gay marriage. “We all should have a right to marry who we want,” said Brandi Sorley, a homemaker from Aurora as she awaited fireworks in Littleton’s Cornerstone Park. The only opposition I heard to civil unions came from people who cited religious objections. Standing nearby, Brandi’s brother-in-law Mark, a maintenance technician and Navy veteran, shook his head at her answer. “I think it’s blasphemous,” he said. “A Bible in one hand and a gun in the other, and I’m happy.”
The state gun-control law, which already has inspired recall elections against two Democratic state senators, may threaten the party more. While many white-collar people backed it, even several of them were unsure it would work—and its mostly blue-collar critics expressed passionate opposition. The immigration debate transfixing Washington fell in between. Most people I spoke with, especially those with college degrees, thought providing citizenship to illegal immigrants was the only realistic response. “You can try to solve these problems by building walls or bridges, and in the global world we’re in, I don’t think the wall model is going to [work],” said John Schwartz, an IT consultant from Louisville. But legalization still prompted strong pockets of resistance, mostly from blue-collar people and primarily around the (mistaken) fear that it will provide public benefits to illegal immigrants.
These conversations capture a familiar danger confronting Democrats—here and nationally. Demography is expanding their coalition, which largely welcomes their agenda. But their voters seem lukewarm about the economy and Obama’s record. Meanwhile, conservatives are seething against Democratic initiatives they consider systematic government overreach. “They’re trying to control everything,” said Rich Tafoya, an Englewood small-business owner. By maintaining hard-line social positions, particularly on gay rights and immigration, Republicans face a compounding long-term risk of alienating growing groups. But these summer soundings suggest that in 2014, Democrats could face the more immediate danger of another passion gap at the ballot box.