Obama's popularity slide has made his coalition dangerously shallower
By DAVID FREDDOSO | DECEMBER 11, 2013 AT 6:37 PM
“[T]he entire concept of realignments/permanent alignments, which underlay much of the misbegotten analysis of the 2008 elections, is bankrupt and should be abandoned.”
So wrote RealClearPolitics' Sean Trende in his 2012 book, The Lost Majority. One of the book's main theses was that “the permanent majority” -- that great white whale hunted and claimed by both parties over the last decade (and long before that) -- is an unsustainable illusion in the long run.
Few pundits heeded Trende's warning after the 2012 election. The editors of The Week made an argument typical of the moment when they wrote that Obama's coalition of “white liberals, blacks, Latinos, younger voters, blue-collar workers, and moderate women ... has lots of room to grow, whereas Mitt Romney's core base -- much older and whiter -- is doomed to shrink.”
The flaw in this thinking lies in the nature of Obama's coalition. As Trende notes (writing of the 2008 election), Obama's coalition is actually a narrower one than Bill Clinton had, but its much deeper margins of victory among its constituent groups amply made up for that, delivering Obama two majority victories.
Obama obtained his decisive yet modest four-point victory margin in 2012 by running up unusually large (and in some cases historic) margins among Hispanics (44 points), blacks (87 points), moderates (15 points), the young (23 points), the poor (28 points), women (11 points) and those who never attend church (28 points). Not all Democratic candidates -- even strong ones -- can replicate many of these results.
Perhaps the simplest explanation for what happened in 2012 has been overlooked: Obama himself. He can electrify his segment of the population as few can. The old Republican coalition simply could not compete with the margins he won or the turnout he drove.
But one danger of such a coalition -- and one argument against its permanency -- is that it requires a lot more enthusiasm than a lesser candidate can generate. All it would have taken for Obama to lose Ohio or Florida in 2012 was for him to have a John Kerry-like performance among black voters -- even given the higher numbers of them who turned out.
Or for another illustration, look at Obama's approval numbers now. They are sagging not because Obama has lost his coalition, but because he has lost its fervor.
Last week, Gallup released detailed results from its polls of more than 14,000 adult respondents for the entire month of November. Underpinning Obama's 12-point slide in job approval over 11 months (from 53 to 41 percent) is an outsized loss of support with the very groups that put him over the top in two successive elections.
Obama’s largest loss of approval came among Hispanics (down 23 points to 52 percent), arguably the one part of his coalition that truly does have “room to grow.” After that come other key parts of Obama's coalition:
– People with very low incomes (down 18 points to 46 percent)
– Moderates (down 16 points to 45 percent)
– 18- to 29-year-olds (down 15 points to 46 percent)
– The unmarried (down 15 points to 47 percent)
– Women (down 14 points to 43 percent)
– The unchurched (down 13 points to 45 percent)
All of these groups still approve of Obama more than the median American does. He would win them all if another election were held today against probably any Republican. But he would probably also lose that election.
Even with Obama still in office, his coalition is already becoming shallower. Any Democrat who would attempt his same path to victory in 2016 -- let alone build a “permanent majority” -- would do well to take note.