In a piece for the NYT’s it is reported the White House is pursuing a “Colorado” and not “Ohio” based strategy. These strategies of course are based on the kinds of voters the WH will target to win reelection. The “Colorado” strategy, which apparently the WH is going with, would mean the WH will try to reassemble the coalition that saw the president elected in 2008. Minorities, single and college educated women, young and urban voters would comprise its core. But suburban voters would also be heavily targeted. In contrast, the “Ohio” strategy would involve targeting working class whites and unions more than suburban or college educated voters.
Both strategies have their pluses and minuses. The “Colorado” strategy has a couple ofl pluses. First, it targets the most reliable members of the Democratic coalition. Single women and minorities are a majority lock for Democrats. College educated women also seem to be trending towards this outcome consistently as well. But suburban and other college educated voters (such as single white men) are a highly volatile swing vote. If the president could win these voters or get close, depending on turnout the president could pull out a squeaker. Another advantage of this strategy is that it allows the president to motivate his base with blue meat issues. Issues such as abortion, taxes and income inequality would be front and center. The base loves these issues.
The “Colorado” strategy is not without its downsides though. First, it targets a diverse group of voters, socially, economically and politically. Minorities and single women tend to be extremely liberal, college educated women more moderate, suburban voters and college educated white males more conservative. Socially, minorities and single women have different values then college educated white males, suburban voters or college educated women. And economically there is a wide gap between the coalition’s income level. The second downside to this strategy is the coalition is highly unstable. College educated and single women are more likely to vote in mass but minorities not so much (2010 being an example). And suburban voters and college educated white males might not even go with the left. The election of 2010 for example saw college educated whites and suburban voters turn against Democrats. Targeting a coalition that might not even appear on election day would surely doom the president. Lastly, the “Colorado” strategy largely depends on turnout. Minorities are estimated to make up 26% of the 2012 presidential electorate but that assumes rosy turnout assumptions, especially in bad economy, and Hispanics go 65% for the president. Furthermore, it assumes college educated and single women turn out for the president as well. Would this be enough to get the president to a plurality of the vote (or say a minimum need of 48%)?
The “Ohio” strategy has long been pursued by Democrats. FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Jimmy Carter and most recently Bill Clinton pursued this strategy. Working class whites and union members have long been members of what some called the FDR Coalition. The FDR Coalition targeted more downscale and middle class voters. In other words voters with closer economic outcomes and values. And this illustrates one of the advantages of this strategy. Another advantage of going with this strategy is that working class whites are still a large segment of the voting public. In 2010 they comprised almost 30% of the voting public. Even if the president won 40% of this voting bloc, combined with minority and female support he might be able to eke out a victory. Finally, pursing the “Ohio” strategy would allow the president to use his populist message more effectively. Railing against big banks and the system is not as effective on better educated voters who have access and use the system. It has far greater appeal to those on the periphery of the system.
All strategies have downfalls however and the “Ohio” strategy is no exception. The “Ohio” strategy focuses on winning a more conservative segment of the electorate. Ever since Reagan first won these voters in 1980 they have tended to lean to the right. In 2008, even when the president was winning demographic after demographic these voters stuck with McCain. In 2010 they favored GOP candidates for the Senate and House 63%-33%. So for the president to go all in for these voters is self-defeating. Another disadvantage of this strategy is it targets a group of voters who are more pessimistic about the future and the economy. Keeping in mind these voters are on the periphery of the system and it is not surprising. Finally, pursuing the “Ohio” strategy would likely force the president to compromise with the GOP. If the president does so then the campaign slogan of “The do nothing Congress” rings hollow.
It is interesting to note the NYT’s ran a piece citing how the WH is abandoning white working class voters (http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/the-future-of-the-obama-coalition/?ref=opinion). Abandoning might be to strong a word. The WH is sure to try to avoid a 30% drubbing among this group but they are unlikely to try to win 50+1% of their votes. Instead the WH seems to be going with what prominent Democratic pollsters like Stanley Greenburg and Ruy Teixeira have been telling them. Winning the suburban, the emerging college educated vote and the growing minority Hispanic vote is critical for the future. In fact Teixeira writing with Halprin writes that if the president loses working class whites 58%-41% (same as Kerry did in 2004) he can win reelection based on his 2008 totals with other groups staying the same. James Carville and Greenburg wrote a polling memo to the WH making no mention of the white working class vote indicating that the “Colorado” strategy is what the WH is going to pursue in 2012.
The WH looks to pursue a “Colorado” strategy for reelection. Whether it works remains to be seen. The “Colorado” strategy has many downfalls as well as pluses. But one thing is clear however. The “Colorado” strategy will require the president to rebuild his 2008 coalition. Considering the new political and economic realities of the 2010s and that may not be possible.