New Republic reporter Sasha Issenberg takes us through the Democratic Party's strategy for winning in 2014, the so-called "Bannock Street Project". It's predicated on two ideas, first, there are only two kids of voters in America: Reflex voters who vote in midterms, and Unreliable voters who don't.
Add it all up, and the Democrats’ midterm conundrum comes to look like an actuarial one. “If twenty years ago, you said the midterm electorate is older, I would have said, ‘Yahoo! Glad to hear it,’ ” says Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “But now the Roosevelt seniors are dead and the Reagan seniors are voting.” Increasingly, those older voters are backing the same side: In 2000, Al Gore won the youngest and eldest bands of the electorate by slight margins; in 2012, the over-50 vote broke for Mitt Romney by 12 points.
There are also simply more of those older voters overall. Since Obama’s first appearance on a presidential ballot, the population of Americans over the age of 55 has increased by nearly 13 million. By 2022, it will have increased by another nine million. People tend to grow more conservative as they age, but as a cohort, Generation X—whose oldest members will soon reach their fifties—is appreciably more conservative than the Millennials who follow them. “When the Millennials are fifty-five, they’re going to vote more Democratic,” Lake says, not exactly cautioning patience. “That’s thirty years away.”
The Reflex voters are more conservative than ever, and over half identify as Republicans. Getting the Unreliables out matters, but so does winning over the Reflex voters.
Second, mobilizing the Unreliables is far more expensive. But going after the Reflex voters isn't as bad.
The real reason Democrats have embraced a progressive agenda has not been to energize their own base but to lure Reflex voters from the other side. Obama and his party’s candidates talk about the minimum wage in the hope that working-class whites skeptical of Democrats on other matters will become more ambivalent about voting Republican. Democrats’ renewed interest in women’s issues—including a defense of Planned Parenthood and embrace of equal-pay standards—is also designed with defections in mind. In 2012, the Obama campaign’s entire direct-mail program on women’s issues was targeted at reliable voters who leaned Republican: Field experiments in the first half of that year had showed that the messages were most persuasive among voters whose likelihood of voting for Obama previously sat between 20 and 40 percent.
So yes, the Democrats are going after the Reflex voters first and then worrying about the Unreliables.
The question is, will it work? The latest ABC/Washington Post poll seems to indicate that the Democrats have their work cut out for them at best on this front.
Weary of waiting for an economic recovery worth its name, a frustrated American public has sent Barack Obama’s job approval rating to a career low – with a majority in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll favoring a Republican Congress to act as a check on his policies.
Registered voters by 53-39 percent in the national survey say they’d rather see the Republicans in control of Congress as a counterbalance to Obama’s policies than a Democratic-led Congress to help support him. It was similar in fall 2010, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and gained six Senate seats.
Obama’s job approval rating, after a slight winter rebound, has lost 5 points among all adults since March, to 41 percent, the lowest of his presidency by a single point. Fifty-two percent disapprove, with “strong” disapproval exceeding strong approval by 17 percentage points. He’s lost ground in particular among some of his core support groups.
The big problem is the perception of Obamacare.
One reason is that the law seems to have opened an avenue for public ire about health care costs to be directed at the administration. Six in 10 blame the ACA for increasing costs nationally, and 47 percent think it’s caused their own health care expenses to rise. Regardless of whether or how much those costs would have risen otherwise, Obamacare is taking a heavy dose of the blame.
There's good news:
None of this means the GOP is home free. A robust improvement in the economy could change the equation. (As many, at least, say it’s currently holding steady, 35 percent, as think it’s getting worse, 36 percent.) And even as the brunt of economic unhappiness falls on the president, the public divides essentially evenly on which party they trust more to handle the economy – suggesting that the Republicans have yet to present a broadly appealing alternative.
In another example, for all of Obamacare’s controversies, the Democrats hold a slight 8-point edge in trust to handle health care, again indicating that the Republicans have yet to seize the opportunity to present a compelling solution of their own. Indeed, the Democrats have a 6-point lead in trust to handle “the main problems the nation faces” – although, as with all others, that narrows among likely voters, in this case to 37-40 percent, a numerical (but not significant) GOP edge.
But that motivation factor, as much as the Democrats running the show are loathe to admit it, is starting to become a real problem.
Preferences on which party controls Congress may reflect a general inclination in favor of divided government – and don’t always predict outcomes, as in 2002, when more registered voters preferred Democratic control yet the GOP held its ground. It’s striking, nonetheless, that this poll finds Republican control favored not only in the 2012 red states, by 56-36 percent, but also by 51-41 percent in the blue states that backed Obama fewer than two years ago.
If that's truly the case, then getting out the vote may be a matter of sheer survival for the Democrats at this point. A GOP controlled Congress would be a disaster for the next two years, but people want to put Obama "in his place" including it seems Democrats.
That's a problem.