Is President Obama becoming vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2012? Further, is there any chance that challenge could be from the left?
Looking President Obama's job approval by partisan and ideological self-identification, looking at the partisan and ideological self-identification of the Democratic primary electorate as a whole, one can quickly answer "no" to both of those questions.:
Obama job approval by partisan and ideological self-identification, within the Democratic primary electorate
(Source for primary electorate composition: here
|Ideology and Party
||% of Dem primary electorate
||Presidential Job Approval
Source for job approval by partisan and ideological self-ID: here and here)
Overall, this chart gives President Obama a 75% approval rating among the Democratic primary electorate. Further, exactly two-thirds of the primary electorate that does not approve of President Obama's job performance self-identifies as either moderate or conservative, while only one-third is liberal. This means that, at least right now, President Obama is not vulnerable to a primary challenge, and what little danger he faces comes primarily from his right, not his left.
More in the extended entry
|So far, the dominant narrative among liberal and progressives is that President Obama is on their side and accomplishing what he can. Any shortfalls are the fault of Republicans, conservative Democrats, the media, corporate lobbies, or anyone who is not President Obama. This can be seen in the actions of most progressive grassroots organizations, such as MoveOn.org. The basic idea is that progressives are pushing conservative Democrats to fall in line with President Obama's agenda, not that President Obama himself is failing to push hard enough (or actually opposed to progressive ideas).
Whether this narrative will change following large and long-term troop increases in Afghanistan, the coming across the board spending freezes or cuts, and the formation of commission to cut Social Security, remains to be seen. However, my guess is that all of this won't have any particularly strong impact on President Obama's approval among the left.
For one thing, President Obama's disconnect with his base on Afghanistan hasn't hurt him so far. For another, young people, who make up a large percentage of the Obama base, are actually far more in favor of cutting Social Security than any other group (even though young people would be the ones who would see their benefits cuts). And the spending freeze? Well, I don't expect any sizable progressive groups to even make the case against it, since those groups built their membership lists by loading up with Obama activists who won't want those organizations to take the President head-on. So, without anyone arguing against it, he will get more or less a pass from the base on that, too.
Instead of a primary challenge, I expect the continuing economic malaise and factionalization within both parties to result in one--or more--strong third party candidates in the 2012 elections. Once again, the strongest of those challenges will not be on the left, but either in the Perot-Buchanan line of American exceptionalism, or from the hard-right teabaggers. The self-identified left is still largely with President Obama.
(FWIW--I am "undecided" on whether I approve of President Obama's job performance. I imagine the next four months--health care conclusion, Afghanistan decision, budget announcement, jobs bill, potential Social Security / Medicare commission--will clear things up one way or the other.)