2008 Obama Coalition Returning

Putting all political science aside, I’d say the reason a lot of progressives have been pessimistic about Obama’s reelection prospects in the fairly recent past has been pretty simple: how could he possibly reassemble his 2008 electoral coalition? I mean, given conditions in the country, how many disillusioned young people, disappointed liberals, beaten-down minorities, and unhappy independents could he lose without slipping below a majority of the vote, right?

But as Ron Brownstein (who has been focused all along on tracking the direction of that 2008 Obama coalition) demonstrated in an important article yesterday for The Atlantic, the latest general election (he especially utilizes Pew’s) polls show Obama hitting his marks among element after element of his 2008 coalition to a degree that is truly remarkable, at least in a trial heat against Mitt Romney.

Whether the electorate is viewed by race, gender, partisanship or ideology (or combinations of the above), Obama’s numbers against Romney now closely align with his support against McCain, according to the 2008 exit polls. Overall, the Pew survey put Obama ahead of Romney by 52 percent to 44 percent, close to his actual 53 percent to 46 percent victory over McCain.

On the broadest measure, Pew found Obama attracting 44 percent of whites (compared to 43 percent in 2008) and 79 percent of non-whites (compared to 80 percent in 2008). In the Pew survey, Obama attracted 49 percent of whites with at least a four year college degree (compared to 47 percent against McCain) and 41 percent of whites without one (compared to 40 percent in 2008).

Looking at ideology, the reversion to 2008 is almost exact. Against Romney, Pew finds Obama attracting 89 percent of liberals, 20 percent of conservatives (each exactly his share against McCain), and 61 percent of moderates (compared to 60 percent in 2008.) On partisanship, the story is similar: against Romney, Pew finds Obama attracting 9 percent of Republicans (exactly his 2008 share), 51 percent of independents (compared to 52 percent last time) and 94 percent of Democrats (up from 89 percent in 2008). In the Pew survey, Obama wins 46 percent of white independents (compared to the 47 percent he drew against McCain).

This is obviously just a snapshot of public opinion more than eight months from Election Day, before we know how the economic numbers stack up, what the general election campaign is like, or even whose name is on the ballot under the sign of the elephant. It also doesn’t factor in turnout patterns, or to put it another way, what segment of the electorate all those categories Ron discusses actually represent, as compared to 2008 (though it’s worth incessantly reminding ourselves that the variations between 2008 and 2010 turnout patterns had much less to do with the relative “enthusiasm” of either party than with the eternal differences in the composition of presidential and midterm electorates).

But it’s getting easier to imagine an Obama victory, not just as a general, abstract possibility, but in terms of the flesh and bone of an actual majority coalition of voters.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.