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What’s the Base?

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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.

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