The weakness of the Obama coalition, revealed

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Apr 26, 2010 at 17:00


In a video message to Organizing for America's 13 million members today, President Obama announced that targeting people who voted for the first time in 2008 would be the top tactical priority for OFA 2010.  This makes perfect sense.  Compared to Gore and Kerry, young voters and first-time voters where President Obama's top demographic groups.  Obama's margin among those two groups surpassed Gore's by over 30%:



Young voters and first-time voters are absolutely Obama's base.  McCain actually won voters age 40 and over, and Obama only won non-first-time voters by 2%.  Compared to other recent Democratic coalitions, Obama relied far more heavily upon young voters and first-time voters.

However, this also reveals a fundamental weakness of the Obama electoral coalition, especially during midterm elections.  Turnout is way down during midterm elections, and there is no group where turnout declines during midterms more than it declines among young voters:

Young voters always turnout at lower rates than older voters, and that gap is particularly pronounced during midterm elections:

Long-term data from the census bureau indicates that the turnout gap between Americans above and below the age of 45 widens significantly in mid-term elections.  For example, over the last nine Presidential elections, Americans aged 45-64 turned out, on average, at a rate 12.7% higher than Americans aged 25-44.  However, in mid-term elections, the average gap over the last nine cycles has been 17.1%.

In 2008, Democrats did better among young voters than in any other election in since 1964.  President Obama won voters under 45 by a 57%-41% margin.  This means that the "natural" lower turnout among young voters in midterm elections will hurt Democrats more than in any midterm since 1964.

Any coalition based so heavily on younger voters, as is Barack Obama's, will almost inevitably suffer a major setback in midterm elections.  Shifting 10% of the electorate (which happened from 2004 to 2006) from the under-45 age group (which Obama won by 16%) to the over-45 age group (which Obama lost by 2%), results in a national popular vote shift of 2% of the popular vote to Republicans.

When young voters and unlikely voters form such a central pillar of a presidential electoral coalition, then that coalition is going to face huge problems in midterm elections.  While it is absolutely the correct move for Organizing for America to try and get those voters back to the polls in 2010, they are unfortunately faced with an almost impossible task.  Overall turnout drops by more than 33% from presidential elections to midterm elections, and by much more than that among young voters.  No GOTV operation, however strong, can reverse trends on that massive scale.  Whatever efforts OFA ends up making will only limit the amount of damage Democrats will suffer by basing their coalition on younger voters and irregular voters.

Chris Bowers :: The weakness of the Obama coalition, revealed

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The ground they need to make up (4.00 / 1)
would have been less if these sorts of considerations had played a bigger role since the election: if OFA hadn't gone dark for months after November, or if it had been more similar to its former self when it did come back online.

If those folks had been mobilized to push the agenda they voted for, they would likely be more engaged now.  

As for the strategy - it seems pretty bare.  Is the idea to get there people to come out to support "the president's agenda," devoid of substance?  If there is something more, I couldn't find it.

One more thing:

Overall turnout drops by more than 33% from presidential elections to midterm elections, and by much more than that among young voters.  No GOTV operation, however strong, can reverse trends on that massive scale.

There will likely always be a drop off - people care more about the WH, the media covers it more, etc. But I'd wager that percentage is also partly a product of the parties doing less GOTV in off years.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


i agree (4.00 / 2)
While it is absolutely the correct move for Organizing for America to try and get those voters back to the polls in 2010, they are unfortunately faced with an almost impossible task.

This quote illustrates the point nicely.  If you are going to run a political party and know you are faced with 'an almost impossible task' two years in advance (which they could have) then you need to do things to make the task not as impossible.  One such possibility is to try to expand the base much more than they did.  Another is to try to legislate and accept a certain amount of losses.  I think they chose the latter to too great an extent.

And yet they pursued the strategy they pursued anyway - despite that a far better electoral strategy would have been to offer more populist progressive policies.  The question, then, becomes why they don't, and I think this is a lot of what we end up talking about here.

Some options - not mutually exclusive and some of them probably work together somehow:

a) personal incompetence and/or immorality by the President (I don't really believe this is the key factor)

b) institutional constraints (e.g. congress, the opposition party, the rules of the senate, etc.) - i don't really believe this either because when push came to shove, they showed that such structural constraints were not 'real.' thouhg there are realities that played out (e.g. the ultraconservative supreme court)

c) history - there is only so fast that an institution can change or a culture can change or anything else - so although Obama promised an end to the last era, one could argue that he is dealing with people in Congress so shaped by it that he faces a 'cultural' constraint in congress (and elsewhere - e.g. the legacy of the power of fox news that was built over many years).

d) social/economic structure - that something less visible is at work - e.g. the dominance of the finance sector and the insurance sectors and other matters over the democratic party and the entire political structure.

e) ideology - related to and informing other things.

i'm sure there's more - it's an interesting topic as to why they would put themselves in a difficult situation - if it is accurate that it is difficult.


[ Parent ]
A few years ago, it was impossible for a black man... (4.00 / 1)
...to win the presidency, espeically with the coalition you just described.

Nothing is impossible.  The election of 2008 proved it.

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!


So? (4.00 / 3)
The election of 2008 proved that the corporate candidate won. This is not a surprise.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
This strikes me as an odd thing to say: (4.00 / 4)
"Whatever efforts OFA ends up making will only limit the amount of damage Democrats will suffer by basing their coalition on younger voters and irregular voters."

The reason why they're a big part of the coalition is because they're the ones that agree with us... Unless you long for the days when we based our coalition on winning "Bubba".


I'm no Bubba. (4.00 / 2)
I am a disciplined Democratic voter who has voted in every primary and election for twenty years, and a member of the executive committee of my county party.

But I'm not Obama's target audience, if I were he wouldn't have provided amnesty for torturers, bailouts for the insurance corporations and Wall Street, rolled back reproductive rights, blown off DADT, etc.

For reasons that elude me, Obama has chosen to ignore people like me and bet his second term on a bunch of fanboys and girls. Will it work? Time will tell.

Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
Not to mention, (4.00 / 2)
sneering at legalizing pot, holding torturers accountable, stopping the wars, and all things liberal hardly scores points with younger voters who are really liberal.  He took the kids home, promised them he'd still love them in the morning, and then dumped them.  

[ Parent ]
Not to mention that (4.00 / 1)
sneering at legalizing pot, holding torturers accountable getting out of the wars, avoiding DADT, and putting down liberals is no way to win friends among our liberal youth.  He took the kids home, promised he'd still love them in the morning, and then dumped them while Emanuel laughed.  

[ Parent ]
he'll win a second term (4.00 / 1)
just at the cost of his stated goal - which was to be a good one term president rather than a bad two term president.  the die hasn't been cast, but I can't imagine any sharp shift soon.  The approach has been clear and consistent - say what you need to, keep the fans on board, respond to whatever political / economic / social interests pose the most problems, and try and get done what you can get done in that context.

It's a wonderful strategy for winning an election, but perhaps not as much for laying the groundwork for a permanent progressive majority as quickly as possible.  It's arguable what impact it has on social/cultural norms in the long run.  It certainly doens't do much to deal with the long term economic issues the U.S. will face which all of these people are so allegedly concerned with.  

Show me a 'post-industrial' country with no labor power and a few expensive violent and pointless wars, and I'll show you a slow moving trainwreck.


[ Parent ]
and a sexist trainwreck at that ;) (4.00 / 1)


[ Parent ]
You're not Bubba... (0.00 / 0)
But you're part of his coalition.  Dedicated Democratic voters are just that...

I still qualify as the "under 40" range, but I've also voted Dem since I started voting... We're not really his concern.


[ Parent ]
It's also the basis… (4.00 / 1)
...of a voting bloc that hasn't yet been engaged enough in the electoral process to feel thoroughly disillusioned, betrayed by or disappointed in the President. OFA can then use the we-just-need-a-little-more-time argument. Admittedly, though, that line might not work as well with that subset of first-time voters who are over 40, say.  

"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams

Obama Fans of America (0.00 / 0)
are also very dependent on the teabaggers. They are counting on that tribal instinct of "protect the chief" to hold their coaliton together.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
This suggests as an electoral strategy (4.00 / 2)
Of emphasizing those issues with the largest generation gap in support preceding a presidential election and de-emphasizing them preceding a mid-term election.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

or of those issues that will most help you increase the size of your constituency (4.00 / 1)


[ Parent ]
Help from Hillary? (4.00 / 2)
In the 2008 primary campaign, there was a huge generation gap between Obama voters and Clinton voters.  Thus, it's not exactly rocket science to hope that Hillary Clinton will have a political role in 2010, especially to help some of her endangered former colleagues.  Traditionally, of course, Sec's of State have been above the political fray, but Hillary has broken barriers before.  One way or another Democrats need to bring some habitually high voting senior citizen voters back home in November or else its going to be really ugly.  

Also, one would think that financial reform would be a great issue to appeal to seniors who are much more affected by the carnage on Wall Street and the resulting damage to retirement funds.


Howard Park is right about the need to bring back in the Hillary voters (4.00 / 4)
Hillary's voters were always more from the traditional Democratic base..popilist, blue collar. older and even had more white males.  Barack Obama as candidate did not engage them.  Hillary was the traditional mashed potato Democrat who had always won presidiential primaries before over the likes of the quiche Democrats like Gary Hart or Paul Tsongas.  Until Barack Obama came along.  African American Democrats had always before voted to the mashed potato Demcorat.  He changed that voting pattern.

He did bring in young voters and independents, but another reason they are unreliable is that even before midterms, during the 2008 campaign they also were there much more for Barack Obama himself, then they were for the Democratic party, the Democratic brand or even other Democrats.  That was a weakness I long saw.  It was one of the reasons that I did not support him in the primary.

It was also a weakness, that at least during the presidential campaign and even as he has governed he has not done much to rectify. He has given mmore props to Republicans for their good ideas....an oxymoron if I ever heard of one....than he gives to Democrats or progressives.

He has failed to make a contrast for these sometime voters that it matters that THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND DEMOCRATS get elected to office.  That voting for him alone is insufficient.

It is why his aversion to ideology is harmful to the polical health of the party he leads.  Because Democrats do have a better ideology which can and will make life better for most people.  But by not making that contrast he has not built a case for why it matters who gets elected in November 2010.

It's not just who went to the polls in 2008, it is what their motivation for going was.  We need voters to go to the polls for Democrats in 2010 who think Democrat Jo(e) is better than Republican John because they are Democrats.

So I agree he needs to get Hillary out...because she has always known that, and can take that message to the voters.

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"
Stoller


Chris Is Right Too (4.00 / 1)
In the heady days after the 2008 election many people, I include myself, thought that OFA could be the catalyst for a real sea change in american politics.  Since then, I respect what OFA has done, often under a media radar that now seems drunk on tea partiers (when is thier 15 minutes over) but it's clear, as Chris notes above that OFA targeting 2008 first time voters makes a lot of sense but it only goes so far.  Obama and OFA can't change the fact that older voters are going to turn out in greater numbers in mid-term elections.  Debra, as usual, is right too -- without the "mashed potatio" democrats who rallied behind Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party is like a one legged runner in a marathon.  

Getting Obama voters to vote for candidates not named Obama is a worthy task for OFA.  Somebody else is going to have to bring the "mashed potatio" Dems back into the fold and get them excited.  It won't be easy because many traditional Dems have suffered the most in the recession.  Nobody has more proven appeal and credability with those voters than the Secretary of State.


[ Parent ]
A jobs program would've helped. (4.00 / 7)
And so would bailing out homeowners instead of usurers. People aren't stupid, they know who's on their side.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
unfortunately, they also know when no one's on their side (4.00 / 1)
but this reality seems to elude our pundit class.

[ Parent ]
And our pundit-wannabe class! (0.00 / 0)


Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
no i think we figured it out :) (0.00 / 0)
:D

[ Parent ]
Suggesting to small cities and colleges that young people offer block help, on their issues. (0.00 / 0)
"Whatever efforts OFA ends up making will only limit the amount of damage Democrats will suffer by basing their coalition on younger voters and irregular voters."

Offering a college worth of demand for change, but they choose the direction, the environment, local or otherwise, energy, Chad.

Second: young people have to realize, if they vote or work twice in the next year, in a primary and a general, they could help in the process of saving the world. No mean feat.

--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
I'm not really sure what any of this means (4.00 / 2)
The whole defining political positions through stereotyping people's food choices obscures more than it clarifies.

Obama is no anomaly in his non-partisan stance, which is why he won the support of so many Democratic elites. And there were plenty of New Dems / DLC / conservative Dems in both camps. These are structural problems, not personal ones.

That said, what message from Clinton do you think would succeed in bringing in the white traditional Democratic voters?  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
Elite Democrats versus working class Democrats. (4.00 / 1)
It's always been a problem. Elite Democrats need the votes of working class ones to get into office, but working class Democrats need the elites to do something for us once in a while once they get there. It doesn't seem like to much to ask . . .

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Before Obama, the Demon Was Named Clinton & Dems Loved Her (him too) (4.00 / 1)
In her campaign, Hillary Clinton did a much better job than Obama in communicating with traditional Democrats, a group with is older than the Dem. electorate as a whole.  In those days, Hillary was the one who was demonized by the right, back in the days when Glen Beck was just another overweight radio shouter.  I think the message needs to be that voters should turn out for real Democrats who will protect Democratic programs like Medicare, unemployment compensation, requiring insurance to cover pre-existing conditions and Social Security.  In 2010 Obama isn't on the ballot, Democrats are.  

[ Parent ]
Thanks to Bill, who believed her? (0.00 / 0)
At least Bill had an excuse for acting so much like a Republican in the WH.  Obama has none.  His election was a route for change, which he promptly threw in the trash.  If you look at liberal vs conservative through the lens of the 50s, 60s, or 70s, Obama and his Democrats are "moderate Republicans" without a doubt.  They make Eisenhower look like a socialist.

If Democrats lose, they will lose because they abandoned the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.  As I said, at least Bill had an excuse.  


[ Parent ]
Bill had an excuse after 1994 (4.00 / 1)
not before.

And it's largely the same excuse as Obama's - dealing with the political, cultural, and social power of Republicans and the far right, which WILL have an influence even though the Democrats have an institutional stranglehold that they choose not to use.

What I object to about the Obama administration is that he is not doing enough to actually break that power.  Instead he concedes to it - well more often than he needs to.

Politicians ;)


[ Parent ]
Food is shorthand for who and how you appeal to voters (0.00 / 0)
Mashed potato Democrats and those who vote for them are interested in subtantive changes in the material conditions of their lives - jobs, health care, education, essentially more and better access to things that will make their lives and the lives of their families, friends and neighbors better.  If it's the right kind of substantive, usually legislative change, that makes their individiual lives better,  should make everyone's lives better.

Quiche Democrats have always been more interested in the making politics better..maknig the polical process better in multifarious ways.  We do need to do that but the reason we need to do that is that these "process" changes are meant to make it easier to effectuate the first meaningful changes.  To me process changes are a means to an end, not the end itself.  It is insufficient and if that is the only change one is going for then it is easy to be diverted away from what I think is the first priority.  

Obama banned lobbyist money from his campaign.  Did it mean anything when they negotiated deals with Pharma, health insurance compnies and hospital? It is a meaningless show reform, that when it mattered in terms of making people lives lots better,  the spirit of it wasn't observed at all.

What can Hillary say?  She knows how to talk about their lives.  She talks about them with a certaon amount of ease.  She makes them important.  She can take the parts of the Obama accomplishments and the Obama agenda that are relevant to them and make it clear why it matters that there are other Democrats who must go on to do more.

She was always much more partisan.  She is good at Republican bashing.  Barack Obama is not good at Republican bashing.  

My first thoughts on this .

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"
Stoller


[ Parent ]
Eh (0.00 / 0)
Meaningless show reform is part of politics. There is no point is me reminding you that Clinton engaged in it too. You see the Clinton campaign and its supporters through the best possible light, and the Obama campaign and supporters in a less flattering light. That's not a very helpful way to make sense of things.

For me, it's strange to talk about the importance of material interests in politics and then describe that through cultural terms.

She knows how to talk about their lives.  

The problem with Democrats isn't that they don't know how to do this - Clinton can do it, Obama can do. Lots of them can do it. The problem is that they rarely do, especially once the campaigns are over.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
wrong place! (0.00 / 0)
didn't mean to post as a reply...

[ Parent ]
It's not cultural (4.00 / 3)
For me, it's strange to talk about the importance of material interests in politics and then describe that through cultural terms.

She knows how to talk about their lives.  

I'm talking about, say single women, unmarried, divorced, widowed, who are so busy they don;t have time for politics because they're scrambling hard to make a living for them and their kids.  That's not a cultural issue.  As I think most people mean it.  They need good schools, good health care, access to service, college loans, etc, etc.  That's not cultural.

You are right; I worried about Obama voters all through the primary.  I worried they wouldn't show up in the midterms. However he won the primary so there are obviously things he did better.  Frankly he planned ahead better.  He was prepared. He had better realtions with the media.  they were on his side.  He can still use this.

He can still win big victories with some meaningful bills.  People respect winners.  Winning begets more winning.  But he has to stop including industry players at the table.  He has to dare them to oppose him on popular measures.  Winning bigger and better is more actually a safer position to take going into the midterms.

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"
Stoller


[ Parent ]
your comment about safer strategies made me realise something (4.00 / 1)
we have an economy that's entirely built on massive risk,
and a Democratic leadership that is totally unwilling to take any risks - even to regulate the amount of risk that economic policymaking has createdf or themselves and moreso for ordinary people around the world.

I wish there was a midterm election on Larry Summers :(


[ Parent ]
To amplify the dinner table analogy (4.00 / 1)
Industry players should not be seated at the table for the meal.

Industry players should be on the table and their influence and very outsized control of their their own industries and the larger economy should be what's being put on the plates.  

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"
Stoller


[ Parent ]
It's an even weaker "coalition" (4.00 / 2)
when you consider that young first time voters in 2008 are likely to be the most thoroughly disillusioned with Obama's complete lack of leadership and casual dismissal of any real change.  

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