Wolraich: The Grim Possibility Of War With Iran
Heat Win Game Six, Disappointing Nation of Heat-Haters
Wolraich: The Grim Possibility Of War With Iran
Heat Win Game Six, Disappointing Nation of Heat-Haters
This space has recently opined that Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan likely put the Presidential election out of reach, and also that President Obama would take a modest lead after the Democratic convention, as uncommitted voters would be swayed by President Clinton in a way they were not by the Marathon Man. Check, and check. The Democratic convention, even Scott Rasmussen has been forced to admit, has resulted in a substantial Obama bounce, placing the President ahead, outside the margin of error. This column is about why the election is nearly over, and what that means.
As I have been saying for more than a year, this election keeps serving as a replay of the 2004 Bush-Kerry contest. As has long been evident, you have an incumbent President in wartime campaigning into substantial headwinds of dissatisfaction, faced with a patrician opponent from Massachusetts with a striking jawline and hair who is known for taking a variety of inconsistent positions. In both cases, an aroused partisan base in the out-party has enthusiastically embraced their somewhat flawed challenger, while the incumbent has focused in like a laser on Ohio, the risks in switching horses, and the bond of trust that comes with incumbency. In both races, there were very few uncommitted voters. And now the race has continued to parallel 2004 in result (thus far), as the challenger’s sometime lead (Kerry actually led Bush more consistently than Romney led Obama, but Romney did lead at times) has evaporated, as the conventions are a pivotal moment at which a grumbly electorate has moved back to the option it knows and trusts modestly more. President Bush never trailed John Kerry after making the convention pitch that even if you disagree with him on issues, you know who he is and what he stands for. President Obama will never trail Mitt Romney after he ran last week with the Big Dog, while Mitt, who has a more ambivalent relationship with our canine friends, was forced to sit on the porch.
Aside from drawing parallels, the election is nearly over because it is more demographically determined than past elections were. Demography increasingly trumps everything. The Democratic Party is more the coalition of African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT voters, and white liberals. The Republican Party is a contrastingly more homogenous construct that is predominantly male, predominantly religious, and very white. The increasing demographic determination of voting (illustrated by Nate Silver’s breakdown of how 2008 portended a shift toward Democratic Presidential voting among nonwhites, but not really among white voters) has made this election one that resists economic cyclicality. While President Obama’s approval rating among black and white voters alike fell from mid-2008 to mid-2012, it actually went up among Latino voters. President Obama’s likely vote share among Latinos remains at roughly two-thirds, right where it was in the near-landslide of 2008. Despite a modest decline in his approval ratings, President Obama’s likely vote-share among African-Americans remains in the middle-to-upper 90s, far above the roughly 90% of the black vote won by candidates Mondale, Clinton, and Gore.
This is the secret of Obama’s enduring lead: the white vote is elastic, but only so elastic. Obama’s overdrive among African-American voters, who are numerous in swing states (Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida), and potential swing states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin), backed by his benefiting from the increasing alignment of Latino voters (and I would expect, LGBT-identified voters), means he can win with 39% or so of the white vote. It also means that it is almost impossible for Mitt Romney to win the popular vote by any meaningful margin. There just aren’t enough white votes for him to open up any kind of margin, which makes the selection of Ryan all the more tactically unsound. Senator Marco Rubio could have helped Romney bring the Latino vote closer to George W. Bush’s 43% share in 2004. Senator Kelly Ayotte could have helped Romney improve among all racial groups (including white voters) because more than half of all such voters are female. Picking a white male who appeals to his base was akin to running the ball on 3rd and nine. Post Charlotte, Romney is now 4th and seven (although Ryan claims to have gained twelve pounds on the carry).
A further reason the election is nearly over is the way in which the Obama campaign’s 2008 and 2012 databasing, get out the vote operation and grass-roots strength has modified the nature of the Presidential contest in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. To see why that is true, let us first assume that there is a significant enthusiasm gap separating the more energized Republican base from the moderately less energized Democratic base (an assumption that is doubtless less valid after Charlotte, but stay with me on this). That assumption was epitomized by the Washington Post poll immediately following the Republican National Convention in Tampa, which showed President Obama leading 49-42 among registered voters, but Mitt Romney leading 47-46 among likely voters.
But now consider that Nate Silver models the national popular vote as 51.5% for President Obama and 47.4% for Romney, while modeling Ohio at 51.0-47.5 (only .6% more favorable for Romney), Virginia at 51.7-48.3 (only .7% more favorable for Romney), and Florida at 50.7-48.5 (only 1.9% more favorable for Romney). Those results represent an electorate in those states that has been turned bluer during two cycles of intense GOTV databasing and spadework. Consider that in 2000, Ohio ran four points stronger for President Bush than his national vote share (+3.5% compared to his -.5% showing nationally). And while John Kerry managed to lose Ohio by .3% less than his national loss (2.1% in relation to 2.4% nationally), President Obama won it by 4.6%, which was 2.7% less than his performance. Thus, Democrats have tended to underperform in Ohio, with the average of the last three elections being a 2.1% underperformance – yet this year, polls suggest a .7% underperformance only. Florida was -2.6% (2004) and -4.5% (2008) against the national trend in the last two elections for Democrats. Virginia was -5.8% (2004) and -1.0% (2008) against the national trend in those cycles.
The Obama campaign worked these critical states hard in 2008 when the GOP did not; and with a great number of offices in all three, and early voting in Ohio and Florida, it is simply easier for the Obama campaign to nudge the electorate that votes in Ohio and Florida modestly toward resemblance to the universe of registered voters, in which Obama leads handily, as opposed to purely resembling the universe of likely voters, in which Romney briefly pulled even last week. Given that Romney probably needs all three to win, President Obama’s continued strength in them, plus his bending the arc of vote-share differential last time out and apparently this time gives him an electoral college advantage.
Yet the biggest reason last week that President Obama moved ahead by a modest but apparently decisive margin was the speech made by the last Democrat before him to win either of Ohio or Florida – Secretary of State Clinton’s husband, Bill. The center is shrinking but available to persuasion in a down economy, and putting Medicare-cutting Paul Ryan forward, and doubling-down on the lie that President Obama eviscerated the Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform was just too easy. President Clinton easily rebutted that falsehood, in a way that will carry through the fall. He also spoke to those persuadable voters in a way the GOP convention did not really attempt, from Chris Christie’s stern anger to Clint yelling at the chair, and in a way Paul Ryan could not as an iconic movement conservative. The speeches in Tampa were notable for their relative absence of references to Mitt Romney – but they were more subtly notable for their lack of any GOP counterpart to Bill Clinton, as speakers also avoided mentioning the polarizing presidency of George W. Bush. (Remember Jeb Bush saying, “stop blaming your predecessor,” as if Jeb wasn’t clear that his brother was that President, or at least that he didn’t want to say "President Bush"?) The GOP bench lacks figures of stature, and increasingly lacks figures of statute in the eyes of the vaunted center.
Following President Clinton’s home run, President Obama’s own speech was a good one, but it was a speech to get you there. As many have noted, it listed accomplishments, acknowledged difficulty, and was more workmanlike in tone than the lofty rhetoric of 2008 – of necessity. A President in 2012 cannot soar, because we are not soaring. The speech needed to attack, defend, and move the ball down the field in small chunks. Being Obama, it either inspired you, you hated it and him, or you agreed with its goals generally. The reason it worked is because it was the capstone of a convention of others – Julian Castro, Lilly Ledbetter, Deval Patrick, Michelle Obama, and Bill Clinton. They formed a team that was so strong in message and voice, by example and word calling Democrats to enthusiastic support of the President, that his defense of his record and call to finish a difficult job was worth a five point lead in today’s Gallup poll.
The last two weeks have formed the contrasts between the two major parties and their candidates well. The Republicans were far more homogenous, and played more fully to their base. The Democrats were a more demographically heterogenous group, and played well to the center through the speeches of Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and judging from his approval rising to May 2011 levels, President Obama himself. The Republican convention, because it played to the base so exclusively, yielded no bounce. The Democratic convention, with figures who have more appeal to the center, got a nice bounce.
What is becoming very clear is that the Republican Party simply has a far harder boundary at the 47% level in American politics than does the Democratic Party, and a far more difficult path to 50%. In 58 days, we will be considering what it means that the Democratic Party will have won five of six Presidential popular votes, and won in a bad economy this time. If President Obama presides over an economic recovery, the Democratic Party will likely have two widely beloved and personally admired two-term Presidents, opening a stature gap and a momentum gap against a party relying on a base that grows smaller demographically with each successive election. President Obama last week stood more than he did in 2008 on the shoulders of friends. In his lead and likely victory we see the seeds of an ascendant coalition, to which the party of Christie, Rubio, and Ryan has no long-term answer.