Barack Obama's election as US president gave rise to hopes of radical reform. Indeed, comparisons were drawn with 1932 and there were references to ‘realignment’. Many on the left were quickly disappointed by the limited character of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the abandonment of proposed reforms, and the concessions that were made to ensure the passage of healthcare legislation. Some explained these failures through agency-based accounts and pointed to what they saw as personal weakness. Others stressed the structural constraints imposed by the asymmetric character of partisan polarisation, the political weight of capital, and the institutional character of the American state. The article argues that the character of the ‘Obama coalition’ should also be considered. It has been relatively narrow particularly when compared with the ‘Roosevelt coalition’. In particular, it failed to draw business fractions into its ranks.