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Morning Jay: Obama’s Reelection Strategy Is Riddled With Problems

6:00 AM, Nov 30, 2011 • By JAY COST
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Across a series of news articles (e.g., this story by Jackie Calmes and Mark Landler and this one by Jim Rutenberg), blog posts (e.g., this piece by Thomas Edsall and this one by Josh Kraushaar), and analyses (e.g., this paper by Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers), it has become clear how Team Obama sees a path to reelection.

campaign fist bump Obama

Essentially, it all comes down to three big goals:

1. Do as well with the non-white vote as Obama did in 2008, with the expectation that it continues to increase as a share of the total electorate.

2. Hold steady with upscale white voters, who tend to be more focused on quality of life issues like environmentalism.

3. Mitigate losses among the white working class, but expect to lose this group once again.

So this would be a path to 270 electoral votes that might include Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia (which historically have been Republican) but not Ohio (a quadrennial swing state) or even Pennsylvania (which historically has been Democratic).

Is this a feasible approach?

At this point, it's not likely. I could go on at length about all of its problems, but let’s just look at the three biggest dilemmas I see.

1. Obama still needs the “white working class.” Josh Kraushaar made a good point earlier this month when he discussed the Obama administration’s decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline:

The administration’s decision to cater to environmentalists by postponing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is a clear sign of the dilemma. The president decided to punt on a job stimulus measure in order to placate parts of the coalition that elected him in 2008. Environmental sensitivities took precedence over job creation.

The problem with this approach is that the white working class is more essential to the Obama coalition than one might think. To appreciate this, consider the following chart, which identifies the percent of Obama’s voting coalition that was white working class (defined here as whites without a college degree) in the Midwestern swing states.

It should be clear from this that the New Deal coalition is still hanging around, at least in parts of the country. In some states – like California and Virginia – we see a “new” Democratic coalition of racial and ethnic minorities plus upscale white moderates. However, roughly half of Obama’s voters in the key Midwestern swing states were in the white working class.

In other words, Democrats still win the Midwest – and therefore the presidency – via the old FDR/Truman/LBJ model, so Obama cannot afford to lose these key voters.

At the moment, Obama is doing terrible with this demographic. This is from Rasmussen Reports:

As a point of comparison, Obama won about 40 percent of the vote between these two groups in 2008. If he had won only 32 or 34 percent of them that year, he would have lost the presidency to John McCain.

2. Hispanics are not secure. I’ve pointed out before that “emerging Democratic majority” theorists (like Teixeira) make a category error when they talk about Democratic strength among “non-white” voters. There are important differences within this overly-broad category.

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