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What’s the Base?

[ 22 ] October 27, 2010 |

Just a note of mild irritation in response to a number of recent tweets on the subject; while failure of outreach to his base may have been a significant strategic error for the Obama administration, that’s not really the message of this poll:

Critical parts of the coalition that delivered President Obama to the White House in 2008 and gave Democrats control of Congress in 2006 are switching their allegiance to the Republicans in the final phase of the midterm Congressional elections, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents. All of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for Congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.

To be clear, “base” does not equal “everyone who voted for Obama in 2008.” Base, by any reasonable definition, is a subset of that total; politicians win by motivating their base in addition to chipping off bits and pieces of the opponent’s coalition, as well as by winning the very small sliver of genuine independents.  According to the poll, as far as I can tell, the losses from the Obama coalition include two of the most conservative segments (Roman Catholics and “independents”) as well as women, and I’d argue that the latter is too large and diverse a category to be appropriately termed part of the “base.”    In other words, I suspect we’re seeing the loss of the most conservative parts of the Obama victory coalition, rather than the base.  Although Obama could have done more both to shore up his base and to convince swing elements to remain in the fold, loss of these elements is entirely predictable in context.

Comments (22)

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  1. Jeremy says:

    Yeah, all those ‘independents’ who find the smallest criticism with Democrats which ‘forces’ them to vote Republican.

    I can’t tell if this behaviour annoys more more than the whole ‘Obama is a socialist’ meme. He’s not even that liberal.

    • Harry says:

      Jeremy
      The fact is that the Republicans will control the House and be within two votes in the Senate after the November 2010 election because President Obama and the Pelosi House and Reid Senate have been a dismal failure on economics,health care and national security.
      This mid term adjustment is the beauty of an informed democracy. Sanity, prosperity and U.S. global might and domestic security will return after the election in 2012.
      Harry

  2. wengler says:

    Deep Thought:

    The only thing between us and economic recovery is extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

  3. DocAmazing says:

    im in ur base misidentifyin ur doodz

  4. Malaclypse says:

    I had planned on voting for Obama again next week, until the curb-stomping in Kentucky made me realize that Obama is worse than Bush. Now I’m writing in the Rent Is Too Damn High dude, even though I don’t live in New York.

  5. soullite says:

    I’ve long thought the primary problem for Obama was leaners, and the fact that ‘leaners’ are currently to the left of the base.

    Part of this is because ‘leaners’ don’t have the social incentive to conform to the party when it shifts to the right, while ‘base’ democrats will always do what the party says. They will be happy with Ben Nelson, and they will be happy with Dennis Kucinich. They literally don’t care because they don’t have any real beliefs, just political loyalty.

    Leaners won’t ignore how shitty Obama has governed, or the fact that he bends over backwards for bankers. We sure as shit aren’t going to ignore HAMP (when was the last time an establishment blogger even mentioned that?). Leaners want results, they aren’t happy just having a Democrat in office.

    So here you are. You have a decently solidified base that will let you do anything you want. Unfortunately, you don’t have anyone else and your base is too small to win. You won’t move left to pick up leaners, because you want to serve corporations, and you can’t move right because that space is already dominated by Republicans.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      There’s quite a lot of truth to this, but I also think there are some Democratic voters who are basically Rockefeller Republicans who can’t stand today’s GOP, but feel more or less comfortable with the center-to-right of the Democratic Party (say, from Obama/Biden/Clinton to Nelson/Nelson/Lincoln). If somehow a Kucinich or a Barbara Lee got the Democratic nomination, such voters might well see someone like John McCain or Mitt Romney as the lesser evil.

      Or to put this another way: the Democrats have a Big Tent problem. They are prone to bleeding voters from both the left and the right. And despite a lot of nonsense about an angry Professional Left, they bleed more voters from their right than from their left, as voters on the right of the Democratic coalition have somewhere else to go.

      • Left_Wing_Fox says:

        And despite a lot of nonsense about an angry Professional Left, they bleed more voters from their right than from their left, as voters on the right of the Democratic coalition have somewhere else to go

        Has there been any polls connecting political beliefs to turnout? I noted a fair number of people who lean strongly towards green/socialist beliefs who fell into the “Don’t vote, it only encourages them” mentality. I’m curious is this anecdotal evidence is representative.

      • Pithlord says:

        The Democrats’ problem is they are heterogenous. The Republicans’ problem is they are homogenous.

    • djw says:

      Soullite, with all due respect, I think you’re pulling a Kael on Nixon here. If you have evidence that the leaners are to the left of the base, or that HAMP (something a vanishingly small portion of the population is aware of, I’m sure) is quite unlikely.

      A bit of googling didn’t find it, but I’m quite certain I recall a poll that identified the profile of the typical voted for Obama in 08, not likely to vote this year candidate was someone was a group that was unusually happy with Obama. They’re not staying home because they’re upset, they’re staying home because they’re marginal voters, and they don’t have a charismatic speech-maker to get them to the polls.

      If you read the blog comments section at liberal blogs, you might get the impression that there’s a lot of dissafected leftists who weakly identify with the left who won’t be voting for Obama. This is very, very different from evidence that that group is a significant enough demographic to swing a single house race. I’m open to actual evidence to the contrary, but anyone with a basic understanding of what is known about voting behavior will be pretty skeptical until some meaningful evidence is on the table. Your confidence that there are just lots of people who are just like you falls pretty far short of that standard.

      • djw says:

        First paragraph incomplete, should read

        Soullite, with all due respect, I think you’re pulling a Kael on Nixon here. If you have evidence that the leaners are to the left of the base, or that HAMP (something a vanishingly small portion of the population is aware of, I’m sure) is likely to be a significant factor in this election, please share it.

        • cer says:

          I think djw is correct. From polling in Delaware, non-Republicans are generally satisfied with Obama and had been generally disengaged until O’Donnell was nominated and even now the party is having a hard time getting people involved/committed to vote out of general disengagement, not anger at Obama. I think this is also confirmed by Democratic concerns that African-Americans and young people may not come out to vote in spite of the fact Obama continues to poll well in those groups. Hence why Obama comes to Philly every other day.

          I think IB is correct, though, that where Dems do bleed *voters* (as opposed to occasional participants) it is probably a little to the left, a lot more to the right.

        • soullite says:

          The don’t ‘lean; left. And be honest here, polling on this is bullshit. not 1 in 10 voters can actually define whether most positions are ‘left’ and which ones are ‘right’. you have a shit ton of black folks identifying as conservative who will never, ever, ever support actual conservative policies and so called ‘liberals’ who hate unions.

          on a functional level, though, most registered democrats will support any elected Democrat no matter who they are. Given that the democratic leadership is fairly conservative, this means that these democrats support conservatives regardless of what their actual political preferences should indicate.

          Leaners will not support any old Democrat. They are, by definition, not yellow dog dems. Even if they don’t ‘lean’ as far to the left as ‘base’ voters, they are more likely to stick by their positions and this puts them further to the left as a matter of functional practicality.

  6. soullite says:

    Plus, you pretty much have define anyone who has actively done GOTV, phone banking, etc. as ‘the base’. You can’t just pick different social groups and label only people within those social groups as ‘the base’. The base will have some people in it that don’t fit into any traditionally democratic groups. Some people who fit into those groups will not be part of the base (See Steele, Michael).

    Basically, if you always vote Democratic no matter what, and you almost always vote, you’re the Democrat’s base. If you don’t, you’re not. You’re a leaner or a independent.

  7. Oscar Leroy says:

    Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents.

    I see what you’re saying here, but I would say women and the less affluent are definitely part of the Democratic base.

  8. Ken Houghton says:

    Yes, if you except throwing women’s right to choose under the PPACA bus, the Obama Administration has done nothing to lose the votes of women or liberal Roman Catholics (which, in the States, is a large portion of the RC vote).

    Similarly, if you don’t count the recent cuts in f*ck*ng FOOD AID to the poor and children–the latter in context of “improving education“–and the unwillingness to push any government programs to hire workers, the Obama Administration hasn’t done anything to lose the “less affluent” vote.

    Strangely, those are viewed as “liberal” policies, and would have made a difference with at least three of the four groups. (The fourth, “independents,” is a chimera at best and only people who go All In on Median Voter Theory–that is, ignore that the basic body of the two major political parties is not even close to equal–would worry about addressing it.)

  9. [...] Lost Conservatives, Not the Base, Robert Farley argues at Lawyers, Guns & Money. “While failure of outreach to his base may have been a [...]

  10. Solo Ads says:

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  11. Crispin says:

    I am grateful I found your blog on msn. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my wife were just getting ready to study about it. I am very happy to see this kind of great information getting shared freely out there.

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