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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Redefining the “Center”

Note: this item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on February 24, 2009
Matt Miller has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal which adds to the minority of us progressive gabbers who think that Barack Obama’s “bipartisanship” is aimed at a political realignment rather than short-term compromises with Republicans in Washington.

The president has his eye on a bigger prize than winning a few Republican votes for his stimulus package or having a conservative in his cabinet. He aims to move the political center in America to the left, much as Ronald Reagan moved it to the right. The only way he can achieve this goal is to harness the energies and values of both parties.

Matt doesn’t quite put it this way, but the more concrete Obama objective is to expand the Democratic electoral base by consolidating high levels of support among independents and exploiting the growing divide between Republican politicians and a significant minority of GOP voters.
It’s obviously too early to judge whether this approach is working, but a new Washington Post-ABC poll out today certainly shows how it might work in terms of voter categories.
The Post‘s write-up of the poll dwells on the sharp reduction in Republican support for Obama’s job performance: it’s down to 37% from 62% on Inaugural Day. Well, of course it is; Inaugural Day was and always has been a “peak moment” for any new president, and a month of relentless pounding of Obama by GOP elected officials was bound to resonate with the conservative “base” who heard him described as an elitist socialist baby-killer throughout the presidential campaign.
But Obama’s job approval rating among independents is 67%. Meanwhile, the percentage of voters who think Obama’s trying to compromise with Republicans in Congress is 74%, while the percentage who think Republicans in Congress are trying to compromise with him is 34%. Unsurprisingly, while Obama’s overall job approval rating is 68%, and that of Democrats in Congress is 50%, Republicans in Congress earn a job approval rating of only 38%.
All this could change, but the trajectory in public opinion is towards an isolation of congressional Republicans, who are helping this dynamic along by their behavior towards Obama and the economic crisis itself. You can call it “redefining the center” or simply “realignment,” but if it continues, Obama and the Democratic Party could be well-positioned for the future.

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