Animadversions.

The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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Clobberin’ time! Follow-up.

May 14th, 2008 · No Comments · Politics

In the comments on the earlier post, Ralf asked:

I’m not sure I understand why you frame 1&2 as mutually exclusive. Why can’t Obama appeal to ‘white working class’ Democrats (over 65, high school educated, etc.) in the general?

Obviously, it’s possible that Obama can turn around his extremely weak primary support among white, working class voters in the general election. In fact, if he decided that that was a priority, I’m relatively confident he’d be able to pull it off. That being said, I DON’T think he’ll view the Rust Belt as a priority. I imagine he’s savvy enough to recognize that there’s a much better return on investment waiting for him with emerging demographics and in states that have become potential battlegrounds due to an increased density of Obama-positive populations (like, as I mentioned, Colorado).

The simple fact of the matter is that the “traditional” Democratic support structure is becoming less valuable as time goes on. If you add West Virginia to the states Gore won in 2000, he would’ve had 271 electoral votes and thus would have won that election. In 2008, those same states are worth 269. In 2012, they’ll be worth 259. The strongest strategy available to Obama and his ilk is to let those Rust Belt voters wither on the vine and take the fight to newly-minted battleground states and to current “purple” states that are increasing in stature due to population advancement.

Just because Obama was their second choice in some primaries (as long as one ignores all those Western states), I’m not sure I understand how it follows that Democrats have ‘abandoned’ them. Did the Democrats ‘abandon’ African American voters every time they nominated a white guy?

He’s not their “second choice.” Polls in Rust Belt states have consistently shown a 2/3 of white voters say they WON’T vote for Obama in the general election. While some percentage of that is probably coming from grumpy Hillary-boosters who’ll change their minds between now and November, I’m in no way convinced that that percentage is particularly significant.

And I didn’t mean to suggest that the Democrats have “abandoned” the Rust Belt simply because Obama is leading in the primary race. BOTH parties abandoned them 25 years ago when the industries that had supported the region started to collapse and no administration from either side bothered to make serious efforts to help them rebuild. Since that time, there’s been a great deal of pandering, as the region remained politically significant, but the decrease in population - and the decrease in electoral significance stemming from it - that’s been experienced over the past 25 years has reached a point where a savvy (if ruthless) candidate can and arguably SHOULD decide that it’s simply not worth the effort of seeking those votes.

I realize that in those early hypothetical polls many say that they will vote Republican or stay home, but those polls said the same time about McCain when he won–evangelicals saying they would vote 3rd party or stay home, etc. And McCain supporters said the same thing about Bush (’no freaking way’) in 2000, but, again, voted for him anyway in the general.

I don’t think that comparison holds. The type of person who’s actually willing to make a TRUE protest vote and pull the lever for a third party candidate is a far, FAR rarer specimen than a truly centrist, swing voter who’s comfortable with moderate candidates from either party. Swing Democrats who thought Carter was a tool in 1980 didn’t vote for the Socialist McReynolds/Drufenbrock ticket in an effort to register their unhappiness - they voted for Reagan. And again in ‘84. And in ‘96 for Clinton. And in ‘00 and ‘04 for Bush. It’s possible that McCain will cause some Republicans to stay home in November, but I imagine that percentage will be very small - especially as the general election campaign ramps up and they become angrier at Obama than they are at McCain currently.

I’m not sure I understand why the Democrats are supposed to be so different from the Republicans on this, or why the historical inaccuracy of those sorts of questions is almost never mentioned. I heard Jeffery Tubin mention it on CNN once, but the rest of the crew acted like they didn’t hear him.

I don’t think that it’s an issue of Republicans versus Democrats. I think it’s an issue of Obama’s specific, personal weaknesses and how they can impact the general election. Hope and change are all well and good for appealing to hard-left demographics and idealists in primaries, but it’s strategy, pragmatism and a willingness to be realistic that wins general elections.

Obama - as I’ve said before - seems to be aware of this. He’s becoming more moderate as time goes on (hell, he’s even started sporting a flag-pin again). Assuming he gets the nod, I imagine he’ll run a fairly traditional general campaign, but I also assume he’ll not waste his time chasing after demographics that deeply dislike him AND that matter less and less with every passing election cycle.

Overall, I think that’s actually very GOOD for Obama and the type of Democrats who are attracted to him, but it does mean recognizing that he’s not some sort of miraculous, unifying force that will heal America and bring about a second Camelot. He’s just as divisive as any other candidate, but he has the advantage of being divisive in a way that causes healthy, vibrant voting blocs to support him.

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