Some time during the George W. Bush presidency, Democrats began proudly calling themselves “the party of science.” The moniker was a reaction to the Bush administration’s open embrace of Creationism, and its climate change denialism. The Republican Party was being led around by the nose, liberals charged, by kooky Evangelical philistines and corrupt corporate lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. It had lost its grip on reality, a development that was comically encapsulated by a Bush official’s pejorative use of the phrase “reality-based community,” in sneering reference to critics who still took things like facts seriously. Liberal bloggers appropriated the phrase to describe themselves ironically.
This new science-based identity was congruous with the ascendance of a key demographic within the Democratic coalition, one that would be instrumental in electing and re-electing President Barack Obama. Prosperous, educated professionals, once a reliable, if liberal, Republican voting bloc, had for some time been shifting their partisan allegiance. As the GOP was increasingly drawing in rural and blue collar voters and, accordingly, elevating cultural issues like guns and religion that were imperative to them, the Democrats were burnishing their appeal to urban and suburban college graduates by embracing free trade, emphasizing identity-based issues like abortion and gay rights, and proudly espousing their commitment to expert-driven, technocratic governance. This rebranding from a workers’ party to the party of sober, rational, informed wonkiness flattered these new Democratic voters’ self-conception.