March 9, 2008


Obama's pledged delegates: 1406
pledged delegates: 1246

As we have noted in the first installment of this series, eight years of Republican control of Presidency and Congress politically activated new segments of the American electorate. How this fact will play in this year's races, and beyond, is the topic we should explore.
It is plain that the failure of the Bush presidency is the dominant fact of American politics today.George W. Bush's approval ratings stabilized around 30 percent, 25 percentage points below those of Ronald Reagan's in 1988. Bush's presidency has been marred by scandals, an unpopular war, and an economy that is already in recession, hardly ideal for any party wanting to hold onto the White House as Carter learned in 1980 ("Billygate," hostages in Iran, and stagflation).
The mobilization of new angry voters was what created the successes of Democratic political strategy since early 2006, when they focused on the campaign themes that brought their takeover of the House and Senate in November 2006. The majority in the Senate, for example, was entirely the byproduct of unexpected victories in Republican-held territory, like Montana or Virginia. The so-called success of the troop surge in Iraq, which has reduced the number of American casualties has not altered the centrality of George W. Bush and his failed presidency in the mind of Democratic voters approaching November.
Any forecast about the Presidential and Congressional elections must be based not on the last maneuvering of the candidates, but on long-term political trends. The central trend in recent years has been polarization of the electorate, a factor that for a long time was central to Karl Rove's successful strategy. About 90 percent of those identifying with a political party vote for that party's presidential candidate The exit polls in 2004 showed that John Kerry had won 89 percent of the Democratic vote, George W. Bush 93 percent of the Republican vote. As it is, this translates in a huge advantage for the party that is ahead in what political scientists call "party identification," simply because the pool of voters is larger. And what is the situation on this front? The Democratic advantage is now of almost 10 points, according to Rasmussen and even more according to the Gallup Organization. That disparity is one of the widest partisan gaps ever measured and it is clearly linked to the beginning of the primaries season: the 9.7 percentage point advantage for Democrats now is up from a 5.6 point advantage in January and a 2.1 point advantage in December.
To gauge the importance of this factor, imagine that in November vote the same 120 million Americans who voted in 2004 (there will be more voters, but it doesn't matter here). If Obama or Clinton will keep the share of 90 percent of the Democratic vote, that translates into a huge gap (12 million votes!) with the Republican candidate, assuming (somehow generously) that he will able to bring the same percentage of followers to the polls (this is a very optimistic assessment of Republican cohesiveness this year: even among Republicans, almost a third of Newsweek's survey respondents said they disapprove of the job Bush is doing).
This assumptions translate into 90 percent of 48 million votes for the Democratic standard bearer against 90 percent of 36 million votes for the Republican one. In an year of economic hardship as this one, there is no way the so-called Independents would split 50-50 between the two parties: more probably they will go 55-45 for the Democratic candidate, McCain's courtship of them notwithstanding. That means another 4 million votes in the democratic column (Independents are about a third of the voters, as of today). As there will be new voters, a large majority of them pulling the lever for the democratic candidates (remember that turnout in their primaries has been the double than in Republican ones) this will bring another 2 million votes net advantage to Hillary/Obama.
Question: Can the democrats squander a 18 MILLION VOTES ADVANTAGE between March and November? The answer is: "In theory, that is possible," Democrats have a long tradition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
However, this would really go against the odds. To win, it is enough to reassure the constituencies now pouring into their primaries, especially women, Latinos and young people: they should give the Democrats a comfortable edge in November's election, and potentially well beyond. Right now, calculations about the electoral college give the Democratic candidate a solid majority of 318 votes but the victory might be much larger, with Obama (who in the end will prevail over Clinton) collecting more than 350 votes in the electoral college.
If you add to this the real possibility of large majorities in the House (25 seats more) and in the Senate (6 to 8 seats more), one realizes that there are on the table long-term opportunities for the Democrats, the possibility of changing American political landscape for a generation, as Ronald Reagan did for Republicans in 1980. This, of course, is a question of leadership but it all depends on how the party leader will conduct themselves.