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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Seniors, Obama and 2010

As regular readers have probably noticed, I’m not as freaked out as most Democrats over the President’s approval ratings–generally, or on specific issues like health care. A lot of what’s happened is simply that people are (as Alan Abramowitz pointed out in July) beginning to return to the perceptions of Obama and of Ds and Rs that they had last election day. The process has probably been speeded up by the anxiety surrounding the economy and big policy debates, not to mention the opposition party’s decision to adopt a Total War stance against Obama quite early in his term.
But there’s one factor about Obama’s popularity that was troubling even on the last election day, and is perhaps even more troubling looking forward to 2010: his low standing among seniors. As Tom Schaller explains at fivethirtyeight.com today, drawing on analysis from the Cook Report’s David Wasserman, older voters tend to turn out at much higher relative rates in midterm elections as opposed to presidential elections. For example, voters over 45 comprised 54 percent of the electorate in 2004, but 63 percent of the electorate in 2006. Since Obama’s vote was more or less inversely related to voter age (at least among white voters), a replay of 2008’s results in a midterm could, if normal turnout patterns persist, be a losing proposition for Democrats.
It’s sometimes forgotten that Democrats were actually winning seniors as recently as 2000, and it’s one of the few voter categories where Obama fell noticeably below John Kerry’s percentages from 2004. So obviously, Democratic success in 2010 will depend on either better performances among seniors than in 2008, or better turnout–or even higher Democratic percentages–elsewhere. Another X factor, of course, is that Obama’s popularity isn’t the only factor here: individual candidates from both parties will be competing in actual contests, and disapproval of Obama’s job performance will not automatically translate into votes for every Republican, particularly the type of Republican who spends most of his or her time howling at the moon. And with respect to the emotion being displayed by conservative base voters–old or young–against health care reform of late, it’s worth remembering that you only get to vote once, and “intensity” only matters as it affects turnout, or if it is communicable to others.
Still, Democrats need a 2010 strategy that takes it for granted that disproportionate white senior turnout could be a big problem. Stronger-than-usual turnout among young and minority voters is obviously one way to deal with it, and that will take some serious work.

One comment on “Seniors, Obama and 2010

  1. pjcamp on

    These are not your father’s seniors. Time marches on. These seniors, when they were young, put Reagan in office. Don’t count on them going forward.

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