The Fragile Obama Coalition and the Permanent Campaign
[Posted by Karl]
At RCP, David Paul Kuhn — who knows a bit about demographics — notes that in politics, demographics are not destiny:
Last week, in a Center for American Progress report, the influential liberal analyst Ruy Teixera returned to the 2008 vote and exit polls. Teixera focused the first two thirds of the paper on demographics. “A new progressive America is on the rise,” he concluded.
By now, the political class is familiar with the trends Teixera highlighted. The mountain west turned blue. Democrats won the industrial Midwest. Hispanics and youth voted two to one for Democrats. Nearly every black voter backed Barack Obama. Democrats won college graduates for the first time since Ronald Reagan came to Washington.
Teixera’s nearly 50-page report ignored the economic crisis impact on the electoral map. By the Gallup Poll’s tracking, Democrats were winning about 55 percent of the Hispanic vote before the first stock market crash. McCain was winning the college graduate vote. By September’s close, Democrats were winning roughly 65 percent of the Hispanic vote and college graduates.
Obama won nine states Bush took in 2004. But in six of those states, including Florida and Ohio, John McCain was ahead or tied prior to the first stock market crash on September 15. Nearly to the day of the dive, Obama rose in all nine states to soon sustain a national majority for the first time.
Last week, when I asked a top Democratic strategist about the demographic tailwinds at his party’s back, he shrugged. “Americans are incredibly practical people,” the strategist said. “The only ideology they are going to be loyal to is what works.”
In politics, it would be more accurate to say that the apolitical middle will be loyal to what they perceive as working. The latest Pew poll shows Pres. Obama’s job approval number among Independents dropping from 63% to 57% — and the disapproval number roughly doubling from 14% to 28% — in the course of a month. While a majority of the adults polled favors government exerting greater control over the economy “right now,” almost half are angry over the bailout of banks and institutions like AIG. Even after a good week on Wall Street, investors are still looking at more than a dozen years of paper gains gone with the wind. Six-in-ten adults think Pres. Obama is doing as much as he can to try to fix the economy, though that number may erode as the political class begins to openly question the administration’s competence and his lack of focus on the economy.
All of the above explains why Obama — who cultivated the image of Mr. Calm during the campaign — all but brought his own pitchfork and torch to yesterday’s presser. The Sorosphere may be wallowing in triumphalism, but the White House clearly is not. So this week, it’s a mix of McCain-esque rhetoric on the fundamental soundness of the economy, mixed with populist anger (also McCain-esque, technically). It is a continuation of the permanent campaign, when what Obama could use is an actual plan that inspires confidence among the global financial markets and on Main Street here.