One thing has become painfully clear about how the president is going to wage his reelection campaign. It will be brutal, it will be deceitful, and it will be based on the theme of economic fairness. With nothing to run on the president will attempt to argue he can make America a more fair place if just given four more years. This kind of strategy has its advantages and its drawbacks.
First onto the advantages. This message of fairness is sure to appeal to the millennial generation. In 2008 these voters, 18-29, were a crucial piece of Obama’s winning coalition and they were drawn to the president on this issue. Now in 2012 when they seem disenchanted in the process the president can remind them of his campaign’s theme and lure them back to his side.
But a fairness message does not only just appeal to young voters. Single women and minorities, two more crucial pieces of the Obama coalition of 2008, are likely to be wooed by this message. Both of these groups have polled consistently high approval ratings of the president well above the national average of around 48%. In recent weeks numerous national surveys have shown Obama running extremely well with women, especially the single female vote he needs to pull out wins in swing states like NV, CO, FL, OH, etc.
Young voters, single women and minorities all have one thing in common. They compose an ever-growing share of the Democratic Party’s base. But what is increasingly missing from the Democratic base is blue-collar and college educated white males. These voters have historically leaned left but are now moving further into the GOP’s camp. And this illustrates the limits of a campaign based on fairness. It will fire up the Democratic base and some left leaning independents but it is not likely to win over any new voters.
Indeed, a poll done by the left leaning centrist think-tank Third Way found that among self-identified pure independents (voters who do not lean in any shape or form to either party) the GOP had a better economic message. Furthermore, the president’s message of economic fairness ranked extremely low on the top issues they cared about. Not surprisingly, jobs and the economy topped their issue priorities. Granted these pure independents make up a small share of the electorate but they are scattered across hotly contested swing states throughout the country. Winning or losing them could easily mean the presidency.
Independents in general have always been a fickle lot with Obama. Since early 2010 a solid majority of independents in the Gallup daily tracking survey have disapproved of the president’s handling of the country. They consistently rate the president poorly on the economy, oppose HC Reform and are worried about the country’s growing debt. A message of economic fairness is unlikely to woo them back to his side.
And this in a nutshell is the advantages and disadvantages of the president’s fairness campaign (in fewer than 650 words). The president’s base will eat up the message but independents and conservatives worried about the direction of the country will not. For that matter neither will some college educated minorities, salaried professionals and a whole host of other voters the president needs to win in 2012. Without a record the public will accept the president will try to run and win on a non-issue. Before the campaign is over, expect fairness to be just one of many non-issues the president bases his campaign on. “War on women” anybody?
Caveat: Hispanics could be drawn to to the president on this issue. But to do so they must equate the issue of fairness not just with pay and equal opportunity but also immigration. Nobody can predict whether they will as of yet.