As the country enters into the 2012 presidential election cycle, the electorate’s partisan affiliations have shifted significantly since Barack Obama won office nearly three years ago. In particular, the Democrats hold a much narrower edge than they did in 2008, particularly when the partisan leanings of independents are taken into account.
Notably, the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a 2-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46% to 44%) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52% to 39%). In sharp contrast, the partisan attachments of black and Hispanic voters have remained consistently Democratic.
While Republican gains in leaned party identification span nearly all subgroups of whites, they are particularly pronounced among the young and poor. A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites under age 30 three years ago has turned into an 11-point GOP advantage today. And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually has swung to a slim four-point Republican edge today.
Here's a summary of their data:
This should come as no surprise. I've written before about the census data Ron Brownstein gathered recently demonstrating that in the 2012 election, Republicans would need to hold Obama below 40% support among white people in order to have any chance of winning the White House.
What's the best way to do that? Exploit racial fears. Its the same old southern strategy ramped up for the 21st century. Over the last few years we've seen an ongoing stream of pseudo scandals ramped up by the right wing media about Van Jones, New Black Panthers, ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, birth certificates, Common, etc. And then there's the feeding of fear about Muslims and immigrants. These are all designed to scare the bejeebus out of white people to get them to believe that those "brown folks" are somehow threatening. With a certain segment of white people, its no surprise that this is working. It fits into an age old narrative that's been bred into our bones. You don't have to be a card-carrying member of a white supremacist organization to have all of this instill just enough anxiety to scare you away from voting for "that one."
So what should President Obama and the Democrats do about this obvious strategy? Some leftists have concluded that being the adult in the room doesn't work. Reading that article, I must admit that I'm not left with much understanding of what the writer thinks DOES work - other than something he refers to as "answers" rather than "compromise."
Counting on voters to pick the moderate, even-tempered candidates and go for the "reasonable" choice in 2012 is a fool's errand. With no significant change in the economic climate since the Crash and even before, a wise prognosticator would count on the voters to make the unreasonable choice in 2012 just to make something happen to change the status quo. As much as every poll shows that voters want compromise, what they really want is answers.
Given the fact that these same terrified (mostly white) voters gave the President a rather lunatic House to have to work with, our constitution dictates that he compromise with them in order to get answers. Attempting to demonstrate that to mostly uninformed voters and a media that seems addicted to false equivalence is probably why President Obama has held over a half dozen press conferences in the last month on this debt ceiling issue.
Adam Sewer describes this issue and - at the end - acknowledges the limitations President Obama faces in dealing with it.
The Republican Party had a choice after 2008. They could continue to rely on a dwindling but still decisive share of the white vote to prevail, or they could try to bring more minorities into the party. While I'm not entirely sure how much of the decision was made by party leaders and how much is merely the unprecedented influence of Fox News, but whether it's pseudo scandals of the past two years, from birtherism to the NBPP case, the GOP's nationwide rush to ban sharia and institute draconian immigration laws, or characterizing nearly every administration policy as reparations, the conservative fixations of Obama's first term indicate that the GOP will end up relying at least in part on inflaming white racial resentment to close the gap. If Obama can't mobilize as many minority voters as last time, he'll have to make up the difference by picking up more white votes in those Rust-Belt swing states — giving the GOP even more reason to make Obama unpalatable to them. What that means though, is that Obama can hardly afford to adopt the kind of hardball identity politics available to his opponents.
In the end, the real antidote to fear-based politics is to deal with the anxiety that fuels the fear. The tightrope that Obama has to walk right now is to find a way to deal with these lunatics in the House in such a way that he can address the economic anxieties that fuel the fear while not feeding into the "angry black man" stereotype that would certainly be used by the opposition to scare white folks. I'd say that his press conference on Friday was a masterful stroke of doing just that.