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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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African Americans are loyally Democratic, in that they back the party in roughly the same numbers through thick and thin. “Non-white” voters who are not African American – e.g. Asians and Hispanics – do not behave in this manner. They are, rather, swing groups that have a Democratic tilt. In other words, the Democratic share of this group goes up and down, depending on the party’s overall position in the country:

As we can see, in good GOP years (e.g. 1988) or neutral years (e.g. 2000 and 2004), Republicans can win up to two-fifths of this bloc, while in bad years (e.g. 1992 and 2008) it struggles even to get to a third.

As 2012 is shaping up to be, at best, a neutral year, Democrats shouldn’t bank on doing as well with these voters as they did in 2008. In fact, Obama’s standing with Hispanics is quite tenuous at the moment, as the Gallup poll indicates:

Notice how Hispanics move with the general population while African Americans stand roughly still. That’s what I mean when I say that Hispanics are a swing group with a pro-Democratic tilt.

3. Obama has trouble with the affluent, too. This is how Thomas Edsall described the priorities of upscale whites who typically vote Democratic:       

The better-off wing…puts at the top of its political agenda a cluster of rights related to self-expression, the environment, demilitarization, and, importantly, freedom from repressive norms — governing both sexual behavior and women’s role in society — that are promoted by the conservative movement.

These sorts of voters are not new to the Democratic coalition. We can see the first indications of this group during the 1952 and 1956 candidacies of Adlai Stevenson, the 1968 Gene McCarthy campaign, and even the 1972 George McGovern campaign. The environmentalist, feminist, and consumer rights movements all sprang up from this liberal subset of the middle class, which was more focused on quality of life issues than the material concerns of the farmer-laborer coalition that Woodrow Wilson, FDR and Harry Truman built.

Clinton in 1996 expanded on the core liberal bloc by bringing in the socially moderate voters in traditional GOP bastions like the suburbs of Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Again, it’s presumptuous to factor in such strong Democratic hauls with upscale whites in 2012. We have to bear in mind the broader context, which is that these middle class voters have had the luxury of focusing on cultural issues and quality of life concerns for the last half-century because of the fantastic growth of the American economy. Standard of living issues did not resonate as much with them because year-in, year-out their material welfare kept improving.

However, in recent years, economic growth has slowed noticeably. The following graph depicts this by tracking the 10-year growth rate of real GDP per capita from 1952 through 2011.

Notice how growth begins to take off in the mid-1960s, which not coincidentally corresponds with the rise of this affluent left wing. In the 1990s, social moderates in the middle class began trending toward the Democratic party, in no small part because of economic growth during the Clinton administration.

But in the last five years that growth has slowed substantially. Nowadays, your average professional class Democratic-leaner can no longer count on an ever-rising level of comfort, and thus does not have the luxury of privileging “self-expression” over standards of living.

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