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The (Democratic) Floor Is Too Damn High!

Reihan Salam writes "My basic take on the political landscape is that President Obama's floor of political support is higher than President Bush's floor"  That is true in one sense.  Obama's Real Clear Politics job approval average bottomed at around 44% while Bush's went down to the mid 20s (yikes!)  But while Bush's floor collapsed, the Republican floor at the presidential level held up pretty well all things considered.  McCain was a weak candidate whose campaign was out organized and vastly outspent.  He was saddled with an epically unpopular President of his own party and the election was dominated by an economic crisis that left him visibly bewildered and floundering.  He still got almost 46% of the vote.  I think that is around Obama's floor too - if everything that can go wrong for him does.

If the 2012 elections were held under the labor market conditions of 2010, Obama would probably lose to a competent Republican opponent.  If the economy is visibly in better shape than in November 2010 (and the unemployment rate has been dropping - we'll see if the pattern continues), Obama's chances improve regardless of what the Republicans do.  He doesn't need to to move very far up from his floor to win. 

Salam is probably right that "the Democrats will run a fear-driven campaign, the central premise of which is that conservatives want to strip public workers of protections, radically shrink entitlements, etc., all to protect the interests of the wealthy."  He is super right that "the right needs to develop a more effective counter-narrative, centered on the goal of sparking a rising economic tide. But that won't be easy."  No, it won't be easy, and I am uncertain that such a narrative aimed at both right-leaning and persuadable audiences will be constructed and widely disseminated prior to November 2012.  The sooner the better, but there is also 2014 and 2016 to think about.  The reformist right needs a policy agenda and narrative that can fire up conservatives and  and win over some currently Democratic-inclined Latino, African-American, and younger voters - and maybe knock that Democratic floor down a few inches.

Yeah, I know, easier said than done.  I'm not the guy to do it, but I have some thoughts about a middle and longer term approach to increasing support for right-of-center health care reform among right-leaning and persuadable populations.  Maybe later in the week.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 6 Comments

Obama's "floor" huh? That's a nice way of saying the obvious -- black folks and other minorities are "in the tank" for Obama, regardless of what he might do. And that's RACIST, Pete, isn't it?

We need to start identifying things for what they are. Racial identification continues to matter for American politics, and we'd damned sure better understand that. The white voter is still the base of the GOP, and that will remain so for the foreseeable future. A lot of "big tentism" ain't gonna get the job done, sorry.

Redwald, I don't for the life of me see your point. African American voters are likely to vote overwhelmingly for Obama in 2012 like they have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in presidential elections (almost however defined) since the 1960s only more so - though winning 97% rather than 90% of 13% the electorate doesn't make the biggest difference in the world . I think that some statistically significant gains could be made after 2012. The large margins Obama maintains among Latinos under lousy economic cnditions is more worrying in both the short and long-term.

You are right that racial identification has salience but you seem mistaken about the implications. The identification of the Democratic Party as the party friendly to African American interests and the Republicans as indifferent or hostile to African American interests is damaging to the interests of the Republican Party, center-right politics, The African American community and the US (though the Democratic Party and associated political elites make out pretty well.) The association of the Republican Party with indifference or hostility to Latino or Asian interests would be more damaging still. This doesn't mean changing course on racial preferences or amnesty or any other substantive policy. It does mean that conservative and Republican political identity will have to be persuasively trans-racial and trans-ethnic and offer substantive benefits derived from policies explained in intelligible language if center-right politics is not to be marginalized in the country as it has been in California. This problem is compounded (fortunately I think) by the reality that there is no noticeable and large swing white constituency out there waiting for a more white racialist Republican politics.

Most of the voters for any Republican victory in the foreseeable future are going to be white. The fraction of white voters in any LOSING Republican effort is going to be even larger.

My point is simple: Obama enjoys racially-motivated support, unlike most other candidates. This is why is support is "sticky." And the difference is more than simply 7%. In Obama's case, the black vote is dedicated; these people will turn out.

As for attracting minorities to the GOP, we've had this argument before. By and large, politics is a game of symbols, not wonky policies. You can talk about "the ownership society" or "the new Republican Party" until you are blue in the face. What resonates with people are broad symbolic gestures, like support for affirmative action, welfare policies, and hate-crime witch-hunts.

In short, if the GOP engages any doing what it really NEEDS to do to attract minority voters, it will shed white voters by the millions.

What are the solutions? Well, instead of engaging in the nonsensical hand-wringing that is "demography is destiny, and we'd better get on board the multicultural train," we get smart. Attack the institutional base of the Democrat party (such as they are doing in Wisconsin and Ohio). Once you've damaged the patronage machine, minority groups will partially demobilize. In general, they are not well-organized, nor well-funded (often completely dependent on government largess).

You see, I'm not afraid of the "multicultural" train. Let it roll. The lefties who are conducting the train are clueless, and it'll be off the tracks in no time at all. You don't have to make up 75% of the population to run the country.

I don't disagree with some of your policy prescriptions, Pete. They are well-intended and may help to some degree. But the larger picture requires broader brush strokes.

So presumably Obama won huge margins among Latinos for racially motivated reasons but Republican margins among Latinos recovered to their non-2004 highs among Latinos (and I'm not sure of the accuracy of those numbers - they are far higher than Republicans have ever won before or since) in 2010 (though Obama personally enjoys higher approval ratings.)

I don't want to talk (much) about an ownership society. I want to talk about health care plans that will increase people's take home pay while maintaining their health care security. I'm not sure what attacking the public sector unions in Wisconsin will do to help among minorities. As far as I can tell the vast majority of public sector employees in Wisconsin are white and most persuadable voters are on the side of the public employees unions. That doesn't mean the policies are wrong, just that they won't have the effects you seem to think.

I couldn't agree more that a politics of symbolism and narrative has to go along with a policy agenda (and at least some shared principles) for a prospective center-right political coalition. That is what makes it tough, because there are populations that just don't respond to "take our country back for Reagan and the Founders against the Big Government socialism." It isn't that they are against Reagan (though there might be some pro-life, pro-lower taxes African Americans who remember Reagan as the welfare queens guy.) Most don't have any personal narrative about Reagan. A line about how Obamacare undermines the Founder's vision works fine to most committed conservatives, but is meaningless (not wrong, just nonsense babbling) to large segments of the populace. So you need a rhetoric that succinctly explains, draws in and offers benefits derived from policies.

It is damn hard (and I'm not the guy to do it), but not exactly unprecedented. Reagan's challenge was to expand the center-right coalition by adding many FDR voters and descendants of FDR voters to a party that many of those voters considered to be a party of upper-class Northern Protestant privilege. The present challenge is to add not-Reagan voters (often because their families were not here during the Reagan Era) and the descendants of non-Reagan voters to a party many might see as a vehicle for white privilege and white identity politics

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